Every family has their own ritual on summer Sundays. Some go to the movies, others do work around the house. For my summer Sundays, my parents always took me, my brother and sisters to meet our cousins at the zoo for a picnic. We launched from the legendary rocket, caught toads in the grass and watched as Lee Richardson Zoo constructed a new "Wild Asia" exhibit. As our picnic came to an end, we would always make one last stop at the old otter exhibit and watch them swim before suiting up ourselves and jumping into my aunt's swimming pool.

Since then, the rocket turned from rusty-green to fresh red, white and blue. "Wild Asia" has been completed. The otters have had a new home built, and a house suddenly appeared where the old otter exhibit once stood. Though I used to argue that the Fulton House randomly fell out of the sky, I have been informed that it was moved in on a truck to my disappointment. During these years, there was one thing that never occurred to me: we never had to pay for tickets at the zoo.

Lee Richardson Zoo stands among the last zoos across the country that does not require admission for pedestrians. Our zoo is a free zoo, thanks to the tax-paying support of local residents and the city of Garden City, which funds zoo operations. As the zoo department is funded primarily through tax dollars, the budget is intended to cover operations and maintenance. Exhibit expansions and enhancements are sometimes funded through the City Capital Improvement Project funds, but larger projects such as new exhibits that replace old facilities are left to Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo. Because Lee Richardson Zoo operates without ticket support, it is important that zoo-goers invest in an annual membership with FOLRZ. March is membership month the time of year that we focus extra effort on expanding our membership.

Currently, FOLRZ is nearing 700 memberships. Most memberships represent two or more individuals, depending on the membership level: individual, family, grandparent, patron or sustaining. There is always room to grow. Every membership with FOLRZ is packed with adventure and a full year's worth of drive-through, admission-free fun. Lee Richardson Zoo is committed to providing the highest quality care for our animal residents. Your gift directly supports efforts to enhance animal habitats and improve the quality of life for our animal ambassadors.

Our current supporters enabled us to accomplish so much in 2012: We were able to help build Pride Rock in the African Lion exhibit, complete with waterfall. We broke ground and opened the African Spurred Tortoise exhibit (previously, the two 80-pound chelonians had to be carried up a steep ladder to the heated loft of the giraffe barn during cold weather). And, we broke ground for the long-anticipated Cat Canyon exhibit (the $1,000,000 project includes spacious natural exhibits for the Cats of the Americas).

These accomplishments would not have been possible without the generous support of donors and local organizations. While we are proud of recent accomplishments, we are ecstatic about our 2013 game plan: We are opening Cat Canyon! And, we are introducing our next capital campaign.

Such milestones are only reached with your support. Help us as we strive to improve our regional zoo. Consider investing in a membership today. On the front of today's newspaper, you should find a sticky note with membership information. An individual membership is only $30 a year, and family is only $50. Drive through the zoo three times and your membership has paid for itself. Benefits include year-round free drive-through, free or reduced admission at more than 150 other accredited zoos and aquariums nationwide, 10 percent members-only discount at the Safari Shoppe, subscription to "Zoo Gnus" newsletter, invites to special events and more.

Summer Sundays are right around the corner. Support the zoo by writing your membership check to FOLRZ today. Memberships can also be purchased online at www.folrz.com. Use your new membership to visit the zoo more often.

As "Boo! At The Zoo" approaches, don't be surprised if you see a pair of black and white stockings with ruby slippers sticking out from under Fulton House. I'll still argue that house fell out of the sky.

Brian Nelson is the Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo executive director. You may contact him at director@forlz.com.