City, Friends group seek ways to improve zoo

Fort Dodge officials and the volunteers who take care of the Oleson Park Zoo want to get rid of the pens that hold birds and small animals there. How that would be done and who would pay for it apparently remains to be decided, however.

The plan to get rid of the pens is one of a handful of items under discussion as leaders of the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department and the Friends of the Oleson Park Zoo work on a new agreement for operating the site.

”We would like to move forward and replace the pens inside the enclosure,” Jim Kramer, the president of the Friends group, told the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Commission Wednesday.

He said the volunteers don’t have the expertise to design new habitats. He added that the group’s funds are ”sufficient for ongoing care” of the animals, but aren’t enough to cover the cost of building new habitats.

”Putting that burden on us is something that just isn’t practical,” Kramer said.

Lori Branderhorst, the director of parks, recreation and forestry, said she also wants to get rid of the animal pens.

”We want nice, open habitats,” she said.

She said the city should plan the new habitats with the advice of experts from other zoos and Iowa State University in Ames. She said the Friends group should take a leading role in raising the money to pay for building them.

”I think it’s imperative that they’re involved in the fundraising,” she told the commission.

Other items still being negotiated by city and Friends leaders include the possibility of a state license for the zoo.

It already has a license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to Kramer. He said he doesn’t think the zoo needs a state license. But he added that the city, not the Friends, should pay for such a license if it is eventually required.

Branderhorst said the city would not pay for such a license.

Kramer also objected to a proposed provision in the agreement that would require the Friends to neuter the male deer.

”We can’t do that,” he said.

He added that it’s wrong to think that a male deer could be captured, neutered and released to live a healthy life.

”That’s just way too much stress on the animal,” he said.

The nine-member commission didn’t have enough members present Wednesday to do business, so it took no action on the proposed agreement.

”This has got to be the year the city and the Friends work together to make that zoo what the public wants it to be,” Branderhorst said after the commission meeting.

”The animals are well cared for,” she added.

She said she wants to create a ”marketing piece” showing what the revamped zoo would like.

Money for building the new habitats would come from the tax levied on hotel and motel bills in the city, plus funds raised by the Friends, she said.

The zoo located in Oleson Park at the south end of 17th Street is owned by the city. However, the animals are owned by the Friends of the Oleson Park Zoo, and cared for by volunteers from the group.

The city’s budget for the zoo is $500 annually. The Friends group receives less than $50,000 a year, according to Internal Revenue Service records.