Opened in the summer of 1993, the then named Grizzly Discovery Center began giving visitors to Yellowstone a greater understanding and appreciation of grizzlies. Realized by the vision of developer Lewis S. Robinson, the GDC was to be a sanctuary for bears that were removed from the wild – saving them from certain death. Still, many questioned the motives of building a captive animal facility so close to Yellowstone National Park. Mr. Robinson also set up the non-profit International Grizzly Fund to assist bears in the wild with a portion of Center proceeds. Nevertheless, the Center opened its doors to an enthralled audience. In December of 1995, the GDC was sold to Ogden Entertainment based in New York. The Center operated as a for-profit while a wolf exhibit and ten captive-born wolves were added in 1996.
In the summer of 1999 Ogden informed the employees of the GDC that they were going to close the Center if a buyer could not be found. At that point a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation was formed. Through the extreme efforts of many dedicated employees and supporters, the Center was able to raise funds, awareness and eventually secure a 30-year financing package guaranteed by a United State Department of Agriculture program for rural development that ultimately funded the purchase.
Now all the proceeds of the Center stay with the Center and support the mission. We immediately received instant credibility with many of the past skeptics and began to make new alliances with federal and state agencies. We made agreements with Yellowstone National Park and started hosting some of their programs. We began testing bear-resistant containers for the US Forest Service. We were given the thumbs-up by the US Fish & Wildlife Service to save grizzly bears from the lower 48 because of our non-profit status. Then in 2001 the American Zoo & Aquarium Association accredited the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.
In late 2002 the Center became the permanent home the “BEARS: Imagination & Reality”. Also completed that same year was the master plan to incorporate all of our dreams into a working document for the future. The first step was to bring “BEARS” on line. Other endeavors have been completed with the addition of the River Valley Wolf Habitat and Naturalist Cabin in 2007 and an outdoor amphitheater was built in 2012 to house educational programs.
After ten years of design and construction, the Banks of the Yellowstone River Otter Exhibit was completed and opened in the 2019. Featuring North American river otters, this multi-species building showcases connections between Yellowstone’s native species throughout the food chain and across natural habitats. The immersive experience of seeing the animals in a naturalistic setting is supplemented by educational graphics to help visitors explore the connections between the animals as they view them.
A new den space and additional habitat for the bears, is under construction. The new den space will provide the bears at the Center with the best facilities we can build them, giving animal keepers even more options for both care in the den spaces and enrichment in the habitat. It will also eventually increase our capacity, with the remodeling of the old den space, to potentially allow the Center to take in more bears.
We are very proud of our education offering and accomplishments. We have evolved from informal contact with our visitors in the habitat to a wide variety of presentations and demonstrations with our staff, Park Service staff and live raptors. Our Keeper Kids program alone has attracted thousands of participants over the years.
Our work on behalf of bears and wolves has been recognized throughout the world as featured on various television and radio broadcasts. We have made some changes by sending bears Fred and Toby to Buffalo, NY, making room for Montana bears Spirit, 101, Coram and twins Grant and Roosevelt. The original wolf pack is no longer alive, but young wolves have been successfully introduced. They continue to amaze visitors with their beauty and behaviors.