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Zoo Bids Spokane A Furry Farewell Hundreds Of Children, Adults Pay One Last Visit To Walk In The Wild

Roscoe the brown bear put on a show for the guests Saturday, a kind of last hurrah.

He sat on his haunches, grabbed slices of bread, and munched away as dozens of visitors watched from across the fence.

Walk in the Wild zoo closed on Saturday, but not before more than 1,000 people got a free look at Roscoe and the other animals.

“It’s too bad it’s closing,” said Tim Robinson, of Spokane, who brought his three children for a morning outing.

His kids said they loved the screeching bald eagle, the pensive bobcat and the slithering snakes.

After 23 years of financial struggle, the Inland Northwest Zoological Society has called it quits at its present grounds near the Pines exit on Interstate 90.

The bears, cats, elk and other large animals are moving to the Silverwood Theme Park at Athol, Idaho, this summer - if the society can raise $2 million for the first phase of construction there.

Saturday’s slush didn’t discourage the crowd. In fact, the cool weather brought the right conditions for a pretty good show from most of the animals.

Zoo officials said their North American species are accustomed to winter weather and are generally more active now than just about any summer day.

Wildlife photographer Les McMillen of Spokane said he’d visited Walk in the Wild maybe 10 times before, so he had to go back to say goodbye.

“Free and the last day. I think those are the magic words,” he said.

He was philosophical about the closure. “I figured this was going to happen,” he said. “Spokane is a funny area. It seems like it’s hard to keep something going here.”

Walk in the Wild is a zoo that was labeled by Parade magazine in 1989 as one of the 10 worst zoos in America.

Still, zoo members were devoted to their animals, even though they couldn’t raise the $1.4 million in cash they needed to keep the exhibits going.

Many of zoo’s contributions came in smaller amounts over the years, and a lot of the work at the site was done by volunteers.

“I think of all the money and all the energy that went into it, and it’s all for nothing,” said Robin Redman, a society member. “It’s sort of sad the community hasn’t supported the zoo.”

Inland Empire Paper Co., which gave the zoo free use of its 80 forested acres, tried to get the Spokane County commissioners to take over the property as a gift, but the commissioners refused. Now the paper company is helping pay off the zoo’s remaining debts with a $100,000 donation.

Zoo officials said they hope to have the new Cedar Mountain Zoological Park open by June. The new zoo will be run separately from the theme park, and will have its own admission gates, said spokeswoman Donna King.

Some people are hoping the new location will bring success to this perennially underfunded operation.

North Idaho may have enough tourists to make the new location work, said Steve Obert of Spokane. “I think it is a positive move,” he said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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