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Zoomobile will be at Jaycee Park July 17

Hastings residents who have not been able to travel to the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley recently, will have the opportunity to become better acquainted with some of the programs and animals during this year's Rivertown Days festival.

The Minnesota Zoomobile will present a program from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, July 17, near the Jaycee Park music stage along the Mississippi riverfront. The program is free and is geared for the entire family.

The Zoomobile and its team of trained naturalists travel to schools and communities such as Hastings, providing an educational and entertaining environmental experience to a variety of audiences. The naturalists use live animals, biological artifacts, theater techniques, story telling, and audience participation.

"Our goal is to provide people with a positive connection with animals and with the rest of the environment," said Zoomobile director Kevin Wier. The program travels the state - to schools during the school year and community programs, including libraries, festivals, and camps throughout the year.

This appearance is the first community-type event in Hastings in which the Zoomobile has been a participant. The Zoomobile has been a visitor at Hastings schools in past years.

Wier described this event as informal.

"It will be more of an interaction with the audience," he said. "We will bring a variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, invertebrate (bugs) with us. There will be some opportunity for touching some of the animals."

Typically, too, the staff brings artifacts for the audience to see, including feathers and bones. The staff and animals arrive in a decorated van (it is obvious where the van is from).

The Zoomobile has been part of the Minnesota Zoo's programs for almost as long as the zoo has been in existence - 30 years. The goal of all Zoomobile programs is to create and establish a sense of stewardship and respect for the diversity and complexity of all life and of the earth. To accomplish the goal, the Zoomobile naturalists provide a foundation of information and knowledge for their audiences as they capture imaginations and stimulate curiosities about the natural world.

The response to the Zoomobile has been excellent, Wier said.

"It has been very popular," he said. "We have tons of repeats."

Founded in 1978, the Minnesota Zoo exists to connect people, animals and the natural world. More than 1.1 million people visit the zoo annually. More than 2,700 animals (449 species) reside there.

The zoo's education programs teach and entertain people at the zoo, around the state, and around the world. In 2008, more than 48,000 individuals participated in the Zoomobile outreach program.

The sponsor of the Hastings program is Flint Hills Resources.