SOUTH CAROLINA (WJBF) — South Carolina is getting closer to “normal.” Governor Henry McMaster announcing that attractions can reopen starting Friday.

The wait is over for folks like Kendyl Martin waiting to come back to Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia.”We have tons and tons of kids and we were ready to get outside and enjoy,” she told NewsChannel 6’s Shawn Cabbagestalk.

But when regular visitors return starting Saturday, May 23, they will see things are not quite the same as before. While the aquarium reptile complex, birdhouse, and feeding exhibits are open, capacity is being limited. “So we’re only looking at about 20% as far as a flow through with our guests. We have staff monitoring guests coming in and guests exiting those buildings,” Director of Communications at Riverbanks Zoo Susan O’Cain shared.

There will also be reminders of spacing at each of the exhibits so guests can social distance and still get a good look at the animals. “They’re going to see the signs, they’re going to see the animal prints, showing you how far away you should be from another guest or another family. They’re also going to notice that our employees are wearing a face mask,” O’Cain said.

Objects children may want to touch, like statues, are also blocked off. “Anytime you visit the zoo, you are going to notice families taking photos on those statues or kids climbing. We know that this disease is still very contagious. We know that it is still out there, so we want to operate in the safest and most efficient way possible,” O’Cain added.

Dining facilities are back open, too with normal transactions taking place with cash or cashless options. “When you come to the Zoo you will still have options for eating. That will look a little bit different. Not as many options, but still plenty of options for guests to choose from,” O’Cain added.

During the pandemic, contractors continued working with the Southern Rhino habitat expecting to open later in the summer.

We’ve learned the Zoo is reopening in three phases. “There isn’t a timeline on that we just need to really see how things go but keeping the safety of everyone and everything in mind,” she said.

When Shawn asked O’Cain if she thinks the animals missed the visitors as much as the visitors missed them, she said, “they definitely know something is different. Even arriving here this morning and seeing the people come in and you can hear the animals, you can hear the birds calling. I think that everyone, the animals, and the human species alike, are happy to have everyone back at the zoo.”

That’s including people like Kendyl Martin and her crew. “I have to say they did a great job of making us feel safe and they were washing everything and sanitizing everything,” the North Augusta resident added.

Everyone who wants to visit Riverbanks will need to reserve a time. We’re told staggered arrival times for entry will be available every half hour; however, visits will not be restricted once admitted to the park. Group sizes will be limited. Tickets will be emailed and can be printed at home or scanned from your phone. Anyone without an advance reservation will not be admitted.

Additional handwashing stations and hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed throughout the park.

Members and guests will be encouraged to wear a face mask but are not required to do so.

For more information on the changes or to get reserved tickets, you can visit Riverbanks Zoo’s website, here:

Meanwhile, Governor McMaster did not specify when he would be reopening entertainment venues. We’re told he’s currently awaiting a studied recommendation on those businesses but anticipates making a decision soon.