Underground tunnel at the Toledo Zoo reopens 21 years later

The underground tunnel reopened Friday at the Toledo Zoo (WNWO).

TOLEDO, Ohio (WNWO) -- The annual Lights Before Christmas are up at the Toledo Zoo, but there's more than just the lights to celebrate this year.

The common theme was nostalgia, with many sharing stories of how the tunnel was a huge part of their childhood growing up in Northwest Ohio.

"I remember being a child, 5 [and] 6-years-old going through the tunnel and making loud animal noises to echo through the tunnel," said Bradley Bethel who was back home in Toledo visiting from North Carolina.

Similar stories were being told all across the zoo Friday night.

"When my mom was a little girl she took this tunnel, when I was a little kid I took this tunnel and now happily I'll be able to take my kids through the same tunnel," said Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz.

Thousands were out Friday night, to quite literally take a stroll down memory lane.

The underground tunnel was officially reopened after it was shut down in 1997 to build the foot bridge above the Anthony Wayne Trail.

"A lot of people don't realize the tunnel is a WPA era structure just like a lot of the other buildings here on site, so built during the depression, during a time that we were trying to put people back to work and it's just great that its held up and we were able to open it again," said Jeff Sailer, Toledo Zoo CEO and president.

The Bethel family was able to introduce their youngest generation to a tradition that seems so simple, but means so much.

"It's something that I recall, that's how old the tunnel is, even when I was just a child I remember doing it, I know my wife does also, so it's been fun to do that and have all three generations go through this," said Bob Bethel.

Bob's son, Bradley, loved making animal noises in the tunnel as a child, and said he just had to continue the tradition now that he has a child of his own.

"I didn't let the fact that I'm 38 stop me from doing it again, especially with her, my daughter, we made animal noises going through the tunnel once again 30 years later, it was awesome," said Bradley Bethel.

Now, the tunnel is more inviting and brighter with artwork for a modern take on the nostalgic Toledo staple.

"This isn't about the most efficient way to get to from the parking lot to the zoo, this is about a connection across generations and I think one of the reasons you're seeing thousands of people stream in here is because of their memories of going to the zoo when they were younger," said Kapszukiewicz.

The Lights Before Christmas display runs until December 31st.

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