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Zoo Manager’s Pleas Are Met With Skepticism

Wed., Feb. 15, 1995, midnight

(For the record, Friday, February 17, 1995): Spokane County commissioners are considering an offer of 81 acres, site of Walk in the Wild zoo, from Inland Empire Paper Co. The size of the parcel was wrong in recent stories about the offer.

Spare the zoo and you won’t be sorry, Walk in the Wild’s manager told the three men controlling its fate.

“The zoo is a worthwhile community facility,” Frances Drake told skeptical Spokane County commissioners Tuesday.

“It has a lot of problems - I’m the first to admit that. But I also submit that these problems are fixable.”

Commissioners are considering an offer from Inland Empire Paper Co., which owns the 65-acre zoo site and wants to give it to the county.

If commissioners take the offer, it’s their choice whether to evict the zoo or let it stay on the land. If commissioners reject the offer, paper company officials say they won’t renew the zoo’s lease in June.

The zoo has used the land rent-free since 1972.

Commissioners haven’t decided whether to accept Inland’s offer. But they do agree that the county won’t become the zoo’s landowner unless Walk in the Wild can survive on its own money.

“My phone calls are running about 11-1 against the zoo,” said Commissioner Phil Harris. “It’s not against the zoo, per se, it’s against the county being involved as a sponsor or a partner.”

The paper company, the county and the Inland Northwest Zoological Society wrote an agreement last year giving the land to the county and allowing the society to continue operating the private zoo.

The deal died, partly because the zoo couldn’t come up with $10,000 for a bond that would cover closing costs if the zoo went out of business. The county won’t drop the bond requirement, said Commissioner Skip Chilberg.

“Would you even have the money to cover that?” he asked Drake.

“Right now, no,” Drake replied.

Commissioner Steve Hasson called Inland’s offer a “hot potato,” since whomever owns the land must deal with the zoo and may be stuck finding homes for the animals.

“And I’m not in the hot-potato business,” he said.

Drake said reports that animals will be euthanized if the zoo closes are “absolutely not true.”

Former zoo managers have warned that some animals would have to be killed because other zoos would not accept them. Specialists in placing zoo animals say elk, deer and some other species probably wouldn’t survive a trip to another zoo.

“The animals are not going to die and that’s all there is to it,” Drake said.

Drake gave commissioners a 38-page business plan that shows the zoo paying off its $65,000 debt this year and making a $50,000 profit each of the next three years. The zoo reduced its debt by $100,000 in 1994 by using donations to pay some bills and convincing creditors to forgive other bills.

Hasson said he admires Drake’s optimism but doubts it will last.

“You’re the sixth (zoo) director I’ve sat across the table from who has had the same hopes and goals from the get-go,” he said. “And then mysteriously, we read about them leaving in the dark of the night.”

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