Silverwood Theme Park is pledging $500,000 to bring the reincarnation of Spokane’s Walk in the Wild zoo to Kootenai County.
The Silverwood Theme Park will pay for the design of the new operation, all of the construction labor and some of the construction materials, said Frances Drake, executive director of the Inland Northwest Zoological Society.
That’s a significant development for Silverwood management, which invited the zoo to Athol, 15 miles north of Coeur d’Alene. They initially said they would only provide land and a share of admissions and concession fees. The zoo will occupy 90 acres of the 700-acre theme park.
Silverwood officials could not be reached for comment Friday.
All told, the Zoological Society has raised $800,000 of the $2 million it needs to create a zoo at Silverwood. Between 30 and 40 percent of the pledges are cash, the rest are in-kind contributions.
One Spokane area individual, whom Drake declined to name, has pledged $100,000 in cash. Western Van Lines in Coeur d’Alene will move the zoo facilities for free - a service worth an estimated $100,000, Drake said. Haskins Steel in Spokane is donating construction material.
“More support is certainly needed from the community,” Drake said. The aim is to have $1 million in pledges by the end of the year.
Walk in the Wild’s lease in Spokane ended after its landowner, Inland Empire Paper Co., unsuccessfully tried to give the acreage to Spokane County. The zoo is being allowed to stay where it is until it is ready to switch homes.
Beginning next month, the zoo only will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That will include the traditional evening light show.
The zoo closes permanently Dec. 30. Construction on the new operation should begin next June. It is expected to open in the spring of 1997 as the Cedar Mountain Zoological Park.
Meanwhile, the animals will stay at the old zoo, except for field trips to schools and nursing homes.
Drake doesn’t expect the zoo to be harmed by the lengthy closure. “I think it’s a good idea to close a chapter on Walk in the Wild,” she said.
“We want it to be clear that Cedar Mountain is not Walk in the Wild. It’s not. This is a new zoo,” Drake said.
For years, Walk in the Wild has been plagued by a series of problems, from attendance to finances, that Zoological Society directors expect to be resolved at Silverwood. The theme park attracts 250,000 people in the summer alone, triple what the zoo has gotten during the entire year.
With a firmer financial footing, fund-raising dollars will be directed to improving exhibits, “not feeding the animals in the winter,” Drake said.