Walk in the Wild zoo has a chance to move to one of the region’s top tourist attractions.
But zoo officials say it will cost about $2 million to take advantage of the opportunity, perhaps the zoo’s last hope to stay in business.
Officials for the zoo and Silverwood Theme Park in North Idaho announced Friday they’ve reached an agreement to save the ailing zoo. Its name would change to Cedar Mountain Zoological Park at Silverwood.
The zoo would remain independent and give up part of its receipts in exchange for use of 90 acres at the theme park, which draws about 250,000 visitors a year. Silverwood would handle promotions and give the zoo a share of concessions.
“Believe me, the zoo comes out on the winning edge on this deal. I couldn’t have asked for more,” said Frances Drake, the zoo’s executive director, who hopes to make the move within 18 months.
Silverwood owner Gary Norton said he had listened to radio reports last November about the zoo’s financial problems and decided the zoo would be a good addition on his 700 acres.
“It just would have been a shame to see the zoo go,” Norton said Friday. “We have the land, and the land is what they needed.”
Other theme parks have started complementing their rides and attractions with zoos, said Silverwood’s president and general manager Dan Aylward.
“It’s the next logical step in the growth of Silverwood,” he said.
Drake called the agreement “a marriage made in heaven.”
It’s up to the zoo to come up with the dowry.
It would cost about $2 million to move Walk in the Wild’s animals to the theme park, Drake said. That’s almost 20 times more than the $113,000 the zoo raised during its best fund-raiser, in 1992.
So far, the zoo has a pledge of $100,000, said Drake, who hopes Silverwood’s reputation will make fund raising easier.
“Obviously, if we can’t raise the money, nothing else will happen,” said Drake, a former fund-raiser for Idaho Public Television. “Silverwood is a quality operation and they’re not going to let anything else happen.”
After 23 years of struggling to stay open, the Silverwood offer seems to represent Walk in the Wild’s last hope.
The Inland Northwest Zoological Society’s lease on its 81-acre Spokane Valley site expires this year. Officials at Inland Empire Paper Co., the zoo’s landlord, say they’ll extend the lease as long as the zoo is preparing a new site.
The zoo has not paid rent since it opened in 1972, and had several opportunities to own the land overlooking the Spokane River.
The paper company tried last summer to give the zoo site to Spokane County. That deal collapsed because county commissioners wouldn’t promise to preserve the land for recreation.
Drake envisions a much-improved zoo, built in phases.
One phase would be called “Northwest Forests,” where visitors would “stroll through a natural, forested exhibit complete with a wandering stream and a waterfall or two.”
The exhibit would feature wolves and some other animals not now at Walk in the Wild, along with a petting zoo with farm animals.
Drake said officials from Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle have offered to send a team and animal moving equipment to move Walk in the Wild’s animals when the time comes.
It would be cheaper and easier for the zoological society to get rid of its animals and start over at Silverwood than it would be to move the animals it now has. Without the burden of caring for more than 100 animals, the zoo could grow slowly, adding exhibits as money becomes available.
But many of Walk in the Wild’s animals are aged, injured or too common to be placed at other zoos. Zoological society officials insist they won’t euthanize animals.
North Idaho was not the only location the zoological society considered for the zoo’s new home. Nor was it the society’s first choice.
Drake said she had hoped to find land closer to Spokane. The Silverwood deal, in the works since March, was the best offer.
“I’m very concerned about Spokane people feeling that we’re moving away from them, that we’re taking it away from them,” she said. “It’s not a Silverwood zoo or even a North Idaho zoo. It’s an Inland Northwest zoo.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map of proposed site of zoo
The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Dan Hansen Staff writer Staff writer Eric Torbenson contributed to this report.