APPLE VALLEY -- A new program allowing people to visit the Minnesota
Zoo for free by showing proof that they receive public assistance cards was a
hit during its first year, bringing in 63 percent more low-income visitors in
2016 than in the previous year.

The Free to Explore Program ushered in nearly 65,700 people on limited incomes last year, compared with about 40,000 people who attended through an access program in 2015.

Claire Ross, the access programs coordinator, says the program changed the
demographics of the zoo's visitors.

Minnesota law has required since 1995 that at least one in 10 zoo visitors be
``economically disadvantaged'' and admitted for free rather than paying the $12
admission price for kids and seniors or the $18 for adults.