Natural Harmony: The Relationship Between Reid Park and the Zoo

The greenest of all of the Park’s green spaces.

In the desert, there is almost nothing that has greater appeal than a green oasis. Our city parks are treasures that attract Tucsonans daily for picnics, bird watching and just lying on green grass. Perhaps the oldest and most admired of all the parks is Reid Park, in midtown Tucson. Established in 1925 Randolph Park included a golf course and park, with a baseball stadium added in 1937. There are some delightful aerial photos of the seemingly barren park from the late 30s. The 160 acres on the southwest were renamed Reid Park in 1978 after Gene C. Reid, Tucson’s first Parks Director. 

When water features were added to the park, Reid Park literally came to life. The two ponds immediately attracted many bird species, and the ponds were soon home to many released “Pond Slider” pet turtles as well as ducks, many of whom had been adopted by well-meaning elementary schoolchildren whose teachers had incubated eggs in classrooms.  Cute ducklings soon grew into large, noisy adults, and many were released into Reid Park’s ponds.   Water in the desert is almost magical in its attraction for wildlife and humans, and all Tucsonans have understandably come to treasure the Reid Park green space. 

Two events in the 1960s made the park even greener: The Cele Peterson Rose Garden and the Reid Park Zoo. The Zoo in particular has become especially enticing to native flora and fauna. While the zoo is known for being home to hundreds of exotic animals from around the world, most people don’t realize it is also home to hundreds of other “volunteer” animals (and plants) that, like humans, thrive in an oasis. 

The Reid Park Zoo has become a magnet for wildlife and, as it has expanded from its very modest start in 1965, the numbers of animal (and plant) guests has increased exponentially.  This will continue as the zoo expands into The Pathway to Asia.

The Reid Park Zoo is the greenest of all of the Park’s green spaces. The Zoo provides many diverse and rich habitats. While these were specifically constructed to mimic the natural habitats of the zoo inhabitants, they also provide an amazing array of plant cover, moisture content, humidity and food availability (yes, food provided for zoo animals is a fabulous treat for many wild animals). In addition, the zoo has intentionally created additional green spaces not found in the park outside the zoo, most notably the new Pollinator Garden, a hot spot for butterflies and hummingbirds.   

While there are many examples of zoo guest species, including countless ducks from the Park’s ponds, I will discuss two of my favorites. Black Crowned Night Herons are remarkable birds common to freshwater swamps. They seem to flourish in the zoo and watching them is a special treat. Vermillion Flycatchers are spectacular red birds that are normally found near streams. The diverse Zoo habitats apparently make these stunning birds feel at home. Neither of these wonderful creatures would be visiting central Tucson if it weren’t for the diversity and richness of the habitats the zoo has created. 

In summary, you may plan a visit to the zoo to see African Wild Dogs or Anteaters, but for me, I am equally thrilled to see our rare native animals that would otherwise never be Reid Park visitors. It is no exaggeration to say that the Reid Park Zoo is the greenest of Reid Park green spaces. Expansion of the zoo will only create more “dark green” space in the park and I can hardly wait to see what new visitors it will attract. 

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  1. I loved reading about how the green space has grown at Reid Park, especially at the zoo. One of the best times to walk at the zoo is early morning when the birds are singing. In the South America loop, the silk floss trees (strange looking trees with thorns covering the trunks) are amazing in the spring when their pink orchid-like blooms cover the canopy. To retreat from the heat of Tucson’s summer, I like a stroll in the Pacu fish cave and black-necked swan grotto area, although the grotto near the Baird’s tapirs has plants and vines growing on its roof top, so it’s also a very cool spot. It helps to hear the water in nearby waterfalls and pools–makes me feel so much cooler!

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