The Garden City Telegram

Sales tax on ballot boosts a unique attraction — the zoo

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Next Tuesday, city residents will have an opportunity to vote to continue their support of Lee Richardson Zoo through the renewal of a half-cent city sales tax that provides many valuable services to residents. Since 1927, Garden Citians have taken great pride in their zoo and have supported its operation, as well as other city services, through the general fund of the city of Garden City. It is very unusual for a community of our size to have a zoo, let alone one the quality and size of ours. The zoo greatly enhances the quality of life in Garden City in a variety of ways, from recreation and health benefits to educational opportunities, as well as enhancing our economy through jobs, tourism and meeting facilities. How familiar are you with our zoo? Read on to test your zoo IQ.

Did you know that Lee Richardson Zoo is free to walk through?

To see elephants, large cats, primates, exotic birds and many other species would require a 3.5 to 6 hour drive to one of our AZA accredited sister zoos in Wichita, Salina, Colorado Springs or Denver. And when you arrived, you would pay a per person admission fee ranging from $11.50 to $17.25 per adult and $6 to $12.25 per child. Lee Richardson Zoo is also very unique in that we allow vehicles to drive through the zoo for just $10 per car for a full day of fun. This day pass allows re-entry any time during that day, and enables you to bring in picnic supplies, strollers, bicycles and wagons. It is also a great way to make the zoo more accessible to our less mobile visitors, from the very young to the very old, the disabled, or those that may not be able to tolerate less than perfect weather conditions. Many of our exhibits and animals are visible from the car, and for those that are not, multiple parking areas let you get within a short walk to your desired destination.

Did you know that in 2012, Lee Richardson Zoo staff and volunteers reached more than 37,000 people through our educational programs, educational events and discovery carts on the zoo grounds? These include free outreach programs to schools and other venues in Finney County, free on-site programming with live animals in our education center, and fee-based outreach programs to surrounding communities and virtual field trips to students across the nation and beyond. Schools travel to Garden City from surrounding states for our programs, including the western half of Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas. Our dynamic programs introduce people of all ages to the amazing world of nature, from wild animals to unique habitats. The programs also help our guests understand how important the health of our environment is to the physical and mental well-being of humans, as well as appreciate the value of many natural resources that we rely upon to support and enrich our daily lives. Program topics span well beyond science as teachers utilize the zoo's resources to help students apply communications, history, mathematics, social studies, art and technology lessons to a universally appealing topic, animals!

Did you know that Lee Richardson Zoo houses more than 250 animals representing 110-plus species within our 50-acre grounds, including lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, primates, wolves, many hoofed animals, reptiles and a multitude of bird species? As an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, our zoo upholds the highest standards of animal care, meeting or exceeding the demanding standards of AZA, as well as federal and state regulations set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and various other agencies. These many agencies regulate facilities with captive animals to help ensure the health and safety of animal, guests and staff.

Did you know that Lee Richardson Zoo attracted more than 155,500 visitors in 2012? License plate surveys from our admission gate identified vehicles from at least 39 states, plus Canada and Mexico. The meeting rooms in the Finnup Center regularly host meetings and conferences for regional, state and local organizations, and provide a lasting positive impression of our community for many first-time visitors to Garden City. Many of these visitors are motivated to return to Garden City at a later date with their families to enjoy the zoo. The zoo regularly ranks in the top five attractions statewide as one of the most popular family-oriented attractions in Kansas. This is good news for the Garden City economy, as visitors to our community may choose our town over our neighboring cities based on the ability to enjoy attractions like the zoo, pool, golf courses, shopping and health care opportunities. Whether they come specifically to visit the zoo, or just enjoy the zoo while here on other business or pleasure, Lee Richardson Zoo makes our community unique and adds an important element to our own quality of life.

Among many other city projects and services (road projects, police and fire services, etc.) supported by the existing half-cent sales tax, the quality of guest experience and professional operation of the zoo are also a beneficiary of this sales tax. While new exhibits are constructed with donations raised by our nonprofit Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo, daily zoo operations are funded by the city's general fund, which is supported by the community and its visitors through this half-cent sales tax. Without such support, the zoo experience and animal collection would change significantly.

Starting Monday, you will be able to enjoy Lee Richardson Zoo for an extra two hours each day as we begin our extended summer hours on April 1. While most zoos are typically open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., we open at 8 a.m. daily year-round, with a 6:30 p.m. entry gate closing and 7 p.m. exit time during our summer season. Plenty of time to enjoy an after work or school picnic, bike ride, jog or stroll where the wild things live! Longer hours give you more time to enjoy all the hidden treasures to be found at our wonderful zoo.

Please remember to exercise your right to vote on Tuesday.

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