A $36 million expansion will happen at South Carolina's largest attraction over the next two years.

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Columbia, SC (WLTX) - The Riverbanks Zoo and Garden celebrated its 40th anniversary Friday, and used the occasion to offer further details on a major expansion of the park.

Since it opened in 1974, Riverbanks has become one of the top attractions in the Southeast, averaging over a million visitors a year. And the goal now, according to Riverbanks CEO Satch Krantz, is offer even more to visitors.

The zoo will undergo a $36 million dollar upgrade over the next two years, adding many new features including a seal/sea lion exhibit, an interactive children's garden, and an enhanced grizzly bear exhibit.

The sea lion exhibit will be designed to invoke the feel of San Francisco's Pier 39, a place where sea lions actually live. When it's complet,e the exhibit will feature seated and underwater viewing. It's set to open in 2016.

The children's garden, which sits on a three-acre site, will allow children to explore creeks, ponds, tree houses, and nature. It's set to be ready by summer 2015.

Some of the changes are to offer new experiences to guests, much as the zoo did when it created its zipline tour and ropes course in recent years. But some are practical--simply put, the zoo's grown so much over the years, it needed improvements to meet the demand of those filing in to see the exhibits. Even the entrance, which was designed in the mid 1980s, could no longer keep up with the times.

"Our design criteria of the old entrance that we've been using since then was for approximately about half of the people who are coming to the zoo today," said Krantz.

That's why the new one will feature a much larger gate, a guest services area, and an expanded gift shop. The zoo will also have enhanced parking.

Some changes have already begun, including to the parking area, but Krantz says the major construction will begin late next month. For more on the expansion plans, visit the Riverbanks Zoo's website.

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