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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    The lion is back at Mohegan Park in Norwich

    Galvyn Neuendorf, 5, and his sister, Gabriella, 3, visit the restored lion drinking fountain at Mohegan Park on Friday May 3, 2024. The children’s father, Grant Neuendorf, a former Norwich City Council member who was on the Mohegan Parks Advisory Committee, brought the children to the park to see the fountain. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Grant Neuendorf, a former Norwich City Council member who was on the Mohegan Parks Advisory Committee, left, and Roy Predmore, superintendent of Public Works in the division of streets, parks, and recreation, talk Friday, May 3, 2024, about the restored lion drinking fountain at Mohegan Park. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Galvyn Neuendorf, 5, helps his sister, Gabriella, 3, turn on the water of the restored lion drinking fountain at Mohegan Park on Friday May 3, 2024. The children’s father, Grant Neuendorf, a former Norwich City Council member who was on the Mohegan Parks Advisory Committee, brought the children to the park to see the drinking fountain. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    The restored lion drinking fountain Friday, May 3, 2024, that is back at Mohegan Park in Norwich. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Norwich ― The zoo is long gone from Mohegan Park, but a beloved lion has returned.

    A bright yellow lion drinking fountain that long adorned the entrance to the former zoo has been refurbished with new plumbing and fresh paint. The lion sits again in its original spot beside a more mundane drinking fountain to the delight of old timers and youngsters seeing it for the first time.

    The story goes that the two drinking fountains were placed together, because some children were afraid to put their heads into the gaping lion’s mouth, said Beryl Fishbone, chairwoman of the Mohegan Park Improvements & Development Advisory Committee.

    “We want more people to come to Mohegan Park,” Fishbone said. “Not everybody notices these things. And we’re thrilled that somebody noticed it.”

    More than 100 likes, shares and comments have been posted on Norwich community Facebook pages since the first photos of the lion were posted on Thursday, a day after it was installed.

    The Mohegan Park Zoo, which featured a mixture of local and exotic wildlife and farm animals, closed in the mid-1990s, with the fenced-in deer the last to go. At the same time, the 1960s-era lion fountain, by then faded and chipped, was placed in storage.

    About two years ago, two city officials separately noticed it in the former monkey building, now a storage building. Then-Alderman Grant Neuendorf checked out the building when he joined the Mohegan Park committee and saw the old lion he recalled as a young boy.

    “I asked (Public Works Director Patrick McLaughlin) if we could get it back out here,” Neuendorf, 34, said Friday, as his son, Galvyn, 5, and daughter, Gabriella, 3, tried to work the water fountain to get a drink. “It helps attract kids to the park.”

    Separately, when Roy Predmore took over as Public Works Department streets and parks superintendent, he too noticed the lion. He asked McLaughlin if he could take on the project.

    Over the winter, they replaced the interior piping, repaired chips in the exterior and repainted it. Workers installed a new underground pipe connected to the adjacent city water line and then poured a new concrete sidewalk pad. The work cost only a few hundred dollars, Predmore said.

    The Public Works Department last year restored another Mohegan Park icon, a colorful giant caterpillar that adorns the lawn near the lion and the park center playground.

    Predmore said whenever he worked in the park center, people would ask what happened to the lion and wanted it back.

    Neuendorf said the restored lion looks very much like how he remembers it as a kid. He thanked the Public Works Department and Fishbone for her tireless advocacy for Mohegan Park. The city has added bicycle trails, exercise equipment and expanded the disc golf course in the park over the past few years.

    “It doesn’t need to be anything super flamboyant,” Neuendorf said. “Just things that attract people to the park.”

    c.bessette@theday.com

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