Project proves power of community support.

A top local attraction took an impressive step forward.

Groundbreaking for the much-anticipated Cat Canyon exhibit took place Thursday at Lee Richardson Zoo. The ceremony marked the success of an impressive grass-roots campaign to build support for the project estimated at upwards of $1 million, a venture that would not have been possible without such support.

A fundraising push by the Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo (FOLRZ) was instrumental, as the group hit the goal needed to move forward in November after some three years of effort.

The local zoo receives significant financial support from the city of Garden City and FOLRZ efforts, but since funding never is unlimited, the zoo organization knew to put new strategies to work in its pursuit of Cat Canyon.

Along with traditional fundraising endeavors, FOLRZ embraced a number of innovative ideas, such as online contests and two outstanding theatrical productions in "Cat Tails" and "Animal Crackers."

Cat Canyon will create a more natural and roomier habitat for the jaguars, pumas and bobcats. The new environment, with a viewing building and windows for each species of cat, also promises to improve the experience for zoo visitors and should allow the zoo to add more cats.

When it comes to zoo operations, the city wisely invests in efforts to keep the facility running and in top shape. Still, many special projects like Cat Canyon would never come about if not for generous contributions from folks who understand the importance of the zoo remaining an outstanding attraction that lures visitors and improves local quality of life.

"This shows what happens when a community comes together and focuses on one project. It not only benefits the zoo, but it benefits the whole community," Garden City Mayor David Crase said during the recent groundbreaking ceremony at the zoo.

The project did indeed deliver proof of how public improvements can materialize even in the midst of tight governmental budgets, thanks to generous supporters willing to invest in their community's future.

And how encouraging to see the latest big leap for a project that stands to deliver far-reaching benefits at the zoo and beyond.