I have whiplash from the sudden end of 2014. The year has been a busy one for Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo and escaped my notice far too fast. In short, I’ll review that year with you in what my grandma has always called a “brag” letter.
Our year always starts with the Annual Banquet in late January or early February. This year’s occurred in late January with guest speaker Dale Leeds, who is the Toyota Elephant Passage Curator at the Denver Zoo. Mr. Leeds shared his knowledge and experience of elephants with an emphasis on wild elephant populations in Africa. That dinner, as usual, sold out.
In February, Friends partnered with Porter’s Flowers for the second year to offer a unique Animal Valentine Adoption and flower package. The $100 bouquet included one dozen “high and yellow’’ roses in a cheetah-themed arrangement coupled with the buyer’s year-long adoption of choice.
That same month, the Red Line Trolley arrived. Unfortunately, it was shipped on an uncovered flatbed trailer on salty and muddy roads. By the time it arrived to the zoo, the trolley looked like it had been pulled out of a lake. After a complete detail, the trolley also had to undergo paint touch ups — keep in mind this was a brand new unit. Daily use of the trolley was delayed from April to June. Not the preferred route, but life happens. The Red Line Trolley was up and running for most of the summer, and proved very popular, especially since Friends’ members receive free passage.
The Safari Shoppe reopened in March for the season with a new menu item that became a quick favorite. Dippin’ Dots arrived in Garden City. Dippin’ Dots is basically ice cream that has been flash frozen, thus it forms into little beads of ice cream. With an average of eight different flavors offered, the Safari Shoppe has become a favorite ice cream stop. (We also discovered that as little balls of ice cream, they scatter like marbles when dropped on the floor. When they finally stop rolling, they melt).
The event season officially started up in May when “The Nighthawks” returned for the fourth annual “Blues at the Zoo.” An echo of Mark Wenner’s harmonica had barely died down — or so it seemed — before stakes for the “Global Bazaar and Ten Thousand Villages Festival” secured a large green and white circus tent for fair trade goods. The second annual event saw a vendor growth from 15 booths in 2013 to 34 in 2014. Friends operated the “Ten Thousand Villages” booth, which offers an opportunity to buy hand-crafted goods from around the globe. Funds made from these sales are sent back to the communities they came from, many being Third World countries.
Following the Bazaar, preparations launched for Friends’ largest fundraiser of the year, “A Wild Affair,” in September. Known by some as the “wildest night” in town, the event set new records in attendance with 425 present and financially with a net of $40,700. (This is the first year for “Wild Affair” to hit $40,000 in its nine-year history.)
“Boo! At The Zoo” was not far behind in October. “Boo!” is my personal favorite event, though it may be because I used to attend as a trick-or-treater. Celebrating its 20th year, attendees saw quite the price hike this year. Admission was $5 in advance or $10 at the gate, compared to last year’s $4 in advance or $5 at the gate. This raise was needed for this community tradition, as it is primarily a fundraiser for the zoo — though it also offers a very safe trick-or-treat environment. While the costs did go up, there was a balance for families due to Friends allowing children age 2 and younger to enter for free for the first time.
After “Boo!” the year started to slow down, with one event left. “Tails in Tinseltown” occurred only two weeks ago. In its second year, we saw an anticipated increase in attendance. Activities in this jolly holiday included a meet-and-greet with Santa Claus, Christmas train rides, animal encounters and a children’s craft.
The highlight of the year was the expansion of the giraffe yard and creation of Iris’ Giraffe Encounters, made possible by the Iris Myers Keating Memorial. Funds allowed for the creation of a new bull yard and the construction of an encounters deck. During good weather on the weekends, guests have the opportunity to purchase lettuce to feed the giraffes under staff and volunteer supervision. The expansion also created the needed yard space to bring in a young female, Cleo, who arrived in September.
What a whirlwind. And we are about to start all over again. The Annual Banquet is scheduled for Feb. 5, 2015.
Brian Nelson is the Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo executive director. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.folrz.org to become a Friend of Lee Richardson Zoo.