Celebrating 50 Wild Years

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For more information visit our Golden Ticket FAQ's page.

The years and the trails that blazed the way for South Carolina’s largest gated attraction — are layered with history, personality, and stories that yearn to be shared with the citizens of the Midlands and beyond.

50 Years is Finally Here!

Join Riverbanks Zoo & Garden’s Birthday Celebration

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, a premiere tourist destination in the Midlands of South Carolina, will commemorate 50 inspiring years of wildlife conservation on April 25, 2024. Since its inception, Riverbanks has been at the forefront of preserving endangered species and educating guests about the importance of caring for wildlife and wild places. 

“As we reflect on this remarkable journey over the past 50 years, this major milestone serves as a testament to Riverbanks’ unwavering commitment to wildlife conservation and education,” said Tommy Stringfellow, chief executive officer and president at Riverbanks. “With a rich history to share and exciting developments on the horizon, the golden anniversary festivities promise to captivate guests and inspire a new generation of conservationists.” The year-long celebration will include elevated signature events, the grand opening of a new Komodo dragon breeding facility later this spring, and continued progress toward our exciting Bridge to the Wild expansion plans, signaling a promising future for Riverbanks. 

Guests attending on Riverbanks’ anniversary day will be treated to a memorable experience, starting with the "A Wild Look Back" self-guided history tour. This nostalgic journey will illustrate the evolution of the Riverbanks landscape over the past five decades. Festivities will kick off at noon in the main plaza with a lively DJ-hosted dance party, featuring top-of-the-hour music sets to keep the energy high. Adding to the excitement, the Dreher High School Steel Band will deliver a captivating performance, setting the stage for an unforgettable celebration. Throughout the day, guests of all ages are invited to join in the fun, dancing amidst a sea of bubbles alongside Riverbanks' mascots and their mascot buddies from across the Midlands, including Mason the Firefly, Blowie the Blowfish, and SCETV's own Smart Cat.

“Riverbanks has a remarkable legacy of fostering connections that make a lasting impact on wildlife and wild places,” said Stringfellow. “As we commemorate our 50th anniversary, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to the dedicated staff, volunteers, and entire Midlands community as we recognize the past, celebrate the present and focus on the future of Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. Our vision for the future includes expanding our conservation efforts, enhancing educational programs for visitors of all ages, and creating innovative experiences that inspire environmental stewardship.” For more details about Riverbanks’ rich history and future endeavors, access the Riverbanks 50th Anniversary Press Kit, which contains a look back over the last five decades showcasing historical highlights, pictures, interviews and more.

Building on the excitement of the Zoo’s 50th celebration, the highly sought-after Riverbanks 50th Anniversary Golden Tickets are currently circulating throughout the community. These golden tickets, symbolizing 50 years of wildlife conservation and community support, can be discovered now through June 30, 2024. Visit Riverbanks’ Golden Ticket webpage for a list of participating community partners, where these coveted tickets can be found.

As Riverbanks’ 50th summer approaches, community members can anticipate another exciting promotion centered around the number 50. In June, Toucan Tuesdays will return to Riverbanks, inviting guests to donate two canned goods in exchange for a buy-one-get-one park admission. This beloved program, which has been a staple since its inception in 2010, has collected an impressive amount of food for the Harvest Hope Food Bank. Riverbanks anticipates reaching a milestone of 50,000 pounds of donated food collected over the last 14 years. Visit Riverbanks.org for the 2024 Toucan Tuesday program dates and join Riverbanks in making a difference one can at a time.

Great American Eclipse

August 21, 2017, on a day some refer to as the “Great American Eclipse,” guests prepared to watch their first total solar eclipse traverse the U.S. from coast to coast in nearly 100 years! Visitors traveled from far and wide to witness this spectacle. Nearly 9,000 visited Riverbanks (75% traveling from outside of South Carolina) that day for a once-in-a-lifetime look at a total solar eclipse. Though the park was packed, one of the greatest victories of the day was the scientific contributions made by university researchers, animal keepers and citizen scientists as they observed and reported the reactions of Riverbanks' animals to this natural phenomenon in the sky. To learn more about those findings, check out the full report at: Total Eclipse of the Zoo: Animal Behavior during a Total Solar Eclipse - PMC (nih.gov)

50 Years of Care

The critically endangered Bali myna has been cared for at Riverbanks for over 50 years! The species is nearly extinct in the wild due to the illegal pet and wildlife trade. Since the 1980s, Riverbanks, along with other zoos and conservation organizations, has participated in efforts to protect the remaining wild birds and restore the population.

Eggs-quisite Learning Opportunities

Pictured here, Riverbanks' longtime curator of birds, Bob Seibels, shows an ostrich egg to eager schoolchildren. Today, ostrich eggs are still used by Riverbanks' engagement team when sharing bio-facts in the park and around the community!

Laying the Groundwork

Riverbanks’ first executive director, John Mehrtens (2nd from the left), reviews plans as surveyors map the future site of the zoo.

Happy Zoo Year!

Happy New Year! 2024 has started off with a ROAR. Stick around as we continue to look back on 50 Wild Years at Riverbanks Zoo & Garden. Though South Carolina winters are mild, we do experience snow on rare occasions. This photo was taken a decade ago in 2014. The added snow element makes for great enrichment for animals to explore in within their habitats! 

Lighting the Way for Conservation

For 35 wonderful years, Riverbanks dazzled the Midlands with traditional holiday lights displays. This year we are thrilled to start a new tradition that sets us apart from the growing number of lights programs in our community and is better aligned with the Riverbanks mission—Wild Lights at Riverbanks Zoo! This all-new experience shines a light on the beauty of nature and the importance of caring for our natural world. We hope you will join us for this magical illuminated safari running select nights now through January 14, 2024.

We're Not Dragon Our Feet!

Residing at Riverbanks since 2011, our Komodo dragons are due for an upgraded habitat. Construction is now underway with a tentative completion date slated for spring 2024. The new facility will provide more engaging, up-close views of the endangered lizards as well as ample space for a future dragon family.  


Polar Bears in the South?

Riverbanks cared for polar bears for many years—as recently as 2001. At this point, Riverbanks joined a number of zoos in the southern tier of the United States in sending the polar bears in their care to cooler climates to ensure a better quality of life for the animals. 

Out and About

Up until the early 1990s, Riverbanks' elephants were often allowed some time outside of their habitat before the park opened. The elephants are seen here walking through the Zoo with their keepers as they head down to the banks of the Saluda River.

Rooted in History

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden not only serves to protect rare and endangered wildlife and wild places, but also safeguards a number of South Carolina’s significant historical landmarks. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973, Riverbanks’ 170-acre site has a deep-rooted history dating back to the early 1800s with South Carolina’s textile industry and the Civil War. Today visitors can view structural remains that reveal this rich past from several vantage points within the Zoo and Garden.

Tall Tails

In honor of one of Riverbanks’ longtime residents, we are highlighting our long-neck friends on World Giraffe Day. Over the course of nearly 50 years, Riverbanks has been home to 40 individual giraffes, 26 of whom were born here in our care! The Zoo's first logo even depicted a giraffe, which was embroidered on staff uniforms.

Seas of Change

Today on World Ocean Day, we look back at our original Aquarium-Reptile Complex, which opened on November 11, 1989 and drew one million guests in the first year. Fast forward three decades, and thanks to the incredible generosity of The Boyd Foundation, the newly reimagined Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Aquarium & Reptile Conservation Center is now a cutting-edge facility that brings our conservation efforts to the forefront of the guest experience. Be sure to visit to find out how you can help protect our ocean and waterways!

Before there was Riverbanks...

Contrary to popular belief, Riverbanks is not Columbia’s first (or second) zoo. Riverbanks was preceded by a small zoo in Columbia's Hyatt Park in the late 19th century, and then later another opened at Irwin Park, which operated into the early 20th century. Both zoos eventually closed, and Columbia would go nearly a half-century before becoming home to what is now considered one of the top zoos in the country. (Pictured below is Riverbanks approximately one year before its grand opening.)

49 and Feelin' Fine!

We have officially started our one-year countdown to 50 Wild Years at Riverbanks! Be sure to share your memories at Riverbanks by emailing 50years@riverbanks.org and stay tuned for the exciting announcements to come! 

Kicking Off the Celebration

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden will turn 50 next year on April 25, 2024! Help us kickstart our celebration and share your favorite photos and memories by emailing 50years@riverbanks.org throughout our year-long countdown!