I just love the expression "this place is a zoo!"

Not only does it refer to the wonderful collection of animals we display to share the wonder of the natural world with our community and beyond, but it also suggests the frenzied pace and diverse load of tasks or projects that tend to pull us in so many different directions that we feel like taffy.

When I use this expression, people laugh and probably assume I'm referring to the animal collection. It's more likely, however, that I'm talking about the hectic pace we seem to have year-round at the zoo.

There really is never a slow time at the zoo.

The summer season naturally sees more visitors, and the growing season adds more grounds work like mowing, pruning, planting, watering and weeding. But when summer visitation slows down, and the landscaping chores lessen, we still have a constant list of repairs and improvement projects that we work on.

These might range from fence or door repair to roofing, plumbing or electrical work, to vehicle and equipment repair, putting up signs, installing playground equipment, replacing cables on animal holding doors, or a million other tasks.

This fall will prove to be even busier with three construction projects under way within the zoo. Heavy equipment seems to be everywhere, along with stacks of concrete blocks, massive piles of dirt, big holes in the ground and contractors busily working all over the place. So what are we building? I thought you'd never ask!

The most noticeable project is an expansion to the Finnup Center for Conservation Education. A new wing being added to the south side of the building will add a new meeting room, a distance learning studio, two animal holding rooms, a garage, volunteer room and additional storage. Farther out in the zoo, our South American animals (tapir, anteater, cavies, alpacas and rheas) soon will be enjoying a new barn with larger stalls, better heat and light, and, most exciting for the keepers, drains and plumbing.

The third part of this project involves expanding our holding facility for the siamangs, those noisy, long-armed apes that hang out in Wild Asia. We currently hold a mother and daughter but have been asked to take a male to breed with our female. Since the intended couple have never met, it is not wise to put them together without an opportunity to slowly introduce them, and that is not possible with the current configuration of our barn. The new siamang holding will create three stalls where before there was just one and will improve both natural and man-made light so these tropical animals can enjoy sunshine even in the chill of winter.

We are excited about all these improvements, and what they will eventually mean for the comfort of our animals and the enjoyment of our guests.

Another project that many of you have been watching involves our duck pond improvements. We have added some man-made wetlands near the waterfall that feeds the duck pond. We love being green at the zoo, but not when it comes to the water that we recycle through the duck pond. Thousands of migrating ducks in winter, falling leaves in the fall, cottonwood seeds in the summer, combined with a closed system leads to a high nutrient level in the water, and results in algae blooms in the heat of the summer. Since wetlands naturally clean water, we are borrowing Mother Nature's techniques to help us have a more beautiful pond.

All four of the wetlands are completed structurally, and two have been planted. Two of the four have a natural mud bottom, while the second two are sealed with a rubber liner and filled with gravel in which we will plant aquatic plants. As water flows back to the waterfall, taps will divert some of the water through each of these pairs of wetlands, where it will sit for about three days in each one. The plant roots will remove nutrients from the water to fuel their growth, and the water returning to the ponds will be cleaner.

Although we don't expect instantaneous results, we were pleased to see that the water coming through the gravel beds was significantly cleaner than what was flowing into them, even before plants were added.

The animal division is gearing up for the fall, when milder weather conditions make it safer to transfer animals.

We expect to ship off our young Bactrian camel, and anticipate the arrival of some new birds for our aviaries, to name just a few. The Education Division is always busy with programming, but also is working on graphics for new or recently arrived animals, updating our cell phone tour and much more.

The Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo are getting ready for BOO! at the Zoo, which will take place Oct. 17. The maintenance crew is replacing a public fence at our primate exhibit, installing new way-finding and other signs, and preparing the zoo grounds for the Tumbleweed Festival this weekend, a music and arts festival put on by Tumbleweed Festival Inc. Admission to the festival requires a button, which is good for admission to two full days of festival fun. Proceeds from button sales benefit Tumbleweed Festival Inc., supporting festival expenses and helping to secure great entertainment for future festivals. Bring your lawn chair, and remember that the zoo is open to pedestrians only (no vehicles) Saturday and Sunday.

This list is just the tip of the iceberg as far as what's going on at the zoo, so now you know why this place is such a zoo! The weather looks fine for the coming weekend, so come on down, enjoy the entertainment and check out our progress.

Visit our award-winning Web site at www.garden-city.org/zoo.