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Archive for Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Zoo of different stripe proposed

Topeka mayor wants larger home for wild animals to roam

September 28, 2005

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Topeka's mayor has a vision of bears, elephants, giraffes and tigers roaming in wide-open spaces in Shawnee County. And he's looking to neighbors, including Douglas County, to help pay for a regional zoo.

"We have a zoo over here and we call it the 'World Famous Topeka Zoo,' but it isn't. I don't know that it's even area famous," Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten said of the Topeka Zoological Park. "It's a nice little zoo, but it could be a lot better."

He said he would like to see a regional zoo similar to the Rolling Hills Zoo, west of Salina. Rolling Hills, a privately owned zoo, is known for keeping animals in large, controlled natural environments.


Reba Bacon, of Aberdeen, Miss., foreground, observes as a sleepy lioness yawns at the Topeka Zoological Park. With Bacon on Tuesday afternoon were her daughter Linda Massey and son-in-law Harry Massey, of Holton. Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten is trying to persuade officials in Douglas County and other neighboring counties that the Topeka Zoo should become a regional zoo with support from other parts of Northeast Kansas.

Reba Bacon, of Aberdeen, Miss., foreground, observes as a sleepy lioness yawns at the Topeka Zoological Park. With Bacon on Tuesday afternoon were her daughter Linda Massey and son-in-law Harry Massey, of Holton. Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten is trying to persuade officials in Douglas County and other neighboring counties that the Topeka Zoo should become a regional zoo with support from other parts of Northeast Kansas.

Bunten said the size of the zoo and the costs associated haven't been determined. But zoos aren't cheap. Topeka budgets $1.5 million annually to run its zoo, Bunten said. As a result, he plans to meet with commissioners from Douglas, Jackson, Jefferson, Osage, Shawnee and Wabaunsee counties in November at a Kansas Association of Counties' conference in Topeka to see whether they have any interest in his vision.

"I don't know if people will want to do this," Bunten said. "But I think it's worth discussing."

Douglas County commissioners seemed skeptical when a letter about the idea from the Jackson County Commission was brought up at Monday's meeting. There are zoos already established in Topeka and Kansas City, they said.

Bunten said the Topeka Zoo would close and the 365 animals would be moved to the regional zoo.

A Western Lowland Gorilla sits in the shade at the Topeka Zoological Park Tuesday afternoon.

A Western Lowland Gorilla sits in the shade at the Topeka Zoological Park Tuesday afternoon.

But Douglas County Chairman Charles Jones said the idea would be a tough sale.

"No citizen has ever come up to me and said, 'We need a regional zoo,' so I just don't have a sense of there being a great public demand," he said. "We're willing to listen, but I think it's fair to say where we are on this, and I just don't see any enthusiasm for it."

Lawrence resident Ronda Eisenbarger said she enjoys taking her children to the zoo, but they usually go to the one in Omaha, Neb. It's nicer, she said.

"But if there was a regional zoo, I'd go to it," she said. "I don't think I would push for it though."

A macaw perches itself within a tree at the Topeka Zoological Park's Rain Forest exhibit.

A macaw perches itself within a tree at the Topeka Zoological Park's Rain Forest exhibit.

Other issues could affect Bunten's plan besides lack of enthusiasm. Efforts and discussions are under way to consolidate Topeka and Shawnee County's parks and recreation departments. The Topeka Zoo falls under the purview of the city's parks and recreation department. There's also the possibility of the city and county governments consolidating.

"It's quite possible that a little more than a year from now, the city may not be running the zoo," Shawnee County Commissioner Vic Miller said. "I think the citizens need to be asked what direction they want to take with the zoo."

Bunten said that a potential change in government doesn't mean city leaders should stop coming up with ideas.

"I'm just seeing if people are interested in it and getting some very preliminary figures for what things may cost for this larger, more expansive type of zoo," Bunten said. "Those are things that could be used by the new government if it happens. But right now, I'm just seeing if there is interest."

The Topeka Zoo had about 182,000 visitors in 2004. Forty-five percent to 50 percent of the zoo's guests are from surrounding counties, including Douglas.

Comments

Richard Heckler 8 years, 10 months ago

All zoo's are dependent on out of town visitors. Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten should be encouraging folks from surrounding areas to purchase annual passes for $35-$60. Topeka's Zoo is quite a nice zoo and Gage Park is loads of fun.

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spikey_mcmarbles 8 years, 10 months ago

My kids love the Topeka zoo. It's so much easier to get to than the KC zoo, and it's easy to get around because it's smaller. Has anyone visited the Omaha zoo? I hear it's very nice.

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Ceallach 8 years, 10 months ago

spikey: I have visited the Omaha Zoo and it is awesome! Well worth the drive. We went up on Saturday morning, bought a weekend pass, stayed at the Comfort Inn (I think) across the street, went back to the zoo Sunday and drove home that evening. It is a wonderful weekend getaway just for fun trip.

However, for our local zoo fix we go to Swope Park. They have made vast expansions and improvements. We enjoy it very much.

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happyone 8 years, 10 months ago

I like the Topeka Zoo much better than Swope Park. It's the perfect size for the smaller kids. It would be a shame to lose the Zoo at Gage Park.

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Confrontation 8 years, 10 months ago

The Rolling Hills Zoo in Salina is very nice. They also just opened a museum that I've heard is pretty neat. It is worth a trip. They have a broad range of animals.

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bankboy119 8 years, 10 months ago

The Omaha Zoo is the best one around(if you consider it around.) Definitely worth the drive.

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