A combination of beautiful weather, free admission and a federal holiday drew a record-shattering 63,910 visitors to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium on Presidents Day.
While the solution may seem counterintuitive, zoo officials think the answer may be to host even more free days in the future.
General admission tickets for the zoo are $15 for residents of Franklin County, $20 for nonresidents. Half-price tickets are available between Jan. 2 and March 17.
Tom Stalf, president and CEO at the zoo, said he thinks the record-breaking number of visitors Feb. 20 in part shows many people feel the normal admission price is a barrier to entry.
"What I'm hoping to do is offer other opportunities for people to get in at a discount or free admission throughout the year," he said.
Stalf said a "perfect storm" of factors Feb. 20 led to the zoo easily surpassing its previous record-high attendance of about 37,500. The massive crowd led to congestion on roadways in and around the city of Powell.
Stalf said zoo officials wanted to apologize for any inconvenience the traffic situation caused for area residents.
"We want to be a community asset," he said. "This is something we never expected."
Powell officials expressed frustration with the situation at the Feb. 21 meeting of City Council.
City Manager Steve Lutz said the traffic problems were not limited to major routes.
"Everything was just flowing out like tentacles (into) all the subdivisions," he said. "It was not a good sight.
"Unfortunately, all the people that we were talking to -- we couldn't help them. There was nothing that we could do."
Powell Police Chief Gary Vest said the congestion led to "a few minor fender-benders," as well as "the perception that government hadn't arranged to make it easier for (motorists) to get through."
Vest said the zoo, which sits just outside of Powell in Liberty Township, did not send word to the city about the free day. He said Powell officials became aware of the event through media reports.
Stalf said if zoo officials had met with law-enforcement leaders prior to the event, they still would not have been able to accurately predict the massive crowd. He said he would have guessed about 20,000 would show up.
"Even if we would have met with the police chief (or) the sheriff, no one would have said be ready for 63,900 (people)," he said.
Vest said he agreed no one likely could have predicted the zoo would surpass its previous attendance record by more than 25,000 people.
"If it had been rainy and 35 degrees out, we wouldn't be having this conversation," he said.
Vest said he does think last month's record-breaking crowd could lead to productive changes.
He said he wants city, law-enforcement, township and zoo officials to discuss how to better move traffic from the site in case of an emergency.
"We ought to have emergency plans to respond to traffic situations that are not planned," he said.
Stalf said zoo officials are willing to meet with law-enforcement leaders to discuss issues regarding capacity, parking and traffic.
The zoo initially requested two deputies from the Delaware County Sheriff's Office to assist with traffic for the event. Sheriff's office spokeswoman Tracy Whited said the area likely would have seen severe congestion even if the event had two dozen deputies on hand, because area roadways cannot handle the level of traffic they saw on Presidents Day.
She said sheriff's officials would be willing to participate in future discussions regarding traffic mitigation near the zoo.
"There are always lessons to be learned," she said. "We have a great relationship with the zoo, and we will most certainly review with them what, if anything, could be done to lessen the traffic frustrations."