Into this life, two types of people emerge: those who are all about economics and those who are all about ecology. The good news is the two should have no qualms about voting for the $14.5 million bond package benefiting Cameron Park Zoo, whose mission isn’t just global conservation and wildlife preservation but encouraging the tourism juggernaut dominating Waco businesses and livelihoods these days. Lest we forget, Cameron Park Zoo remains the second most-visited tourist attraction in Waco.
And from time to time, civic assets need reinvestment to remain vital and relevant, whether firehouse, school or local zoo.
“Tourism is not a silver bullet to our economy, but I do think this is the time for us to solidify our place as the tourist destination in Texas because it is an important part of any economy,” City Councilman Dillon Meek said of the importance of both the 26-year-old city zoo and the bond package on the Nov. 5 ballot to improve and expand it. “I think utilizing amenities like the zoo is a great way to achieve that goal because it is one of the tourist amenities that really benefits our community, too. I think this is a great project and I’m excited about the new things to come.”
City Councilwoman Andrea J. Barefield expressed civic pride in zoo staff and facilities, visited by veterinarians and zoologists from all around because of the wide-ranging expertise by such individuals as zoo legend Johnny Binder, who travels the globe bolstering wildlife causes often on display locally: “That’s huge and that’s an asset we’re proud to call our own. So, of course, we’re supportive of advocating the work of the Cameron Park Zoo because it is pivotal in that industry and in subject-matter expertise.”
And more of us could do with knowing more about ecology and what happens when it deteriorates in our very midst.
Elements of the bond package we’re most excited about: a new, state-of-the-art veterinary/education facility — a necessity given that the current clinic was built when the zoo had less than 60 animals. It has more than 1,600 now, so the update’s way overdue. And while the zoo provides educational programs for 26,000 students a year, Binder acknowledges current educational facilities are “about the size of a typical master bedroom in a home.” And everyone is excited about the endangered black-footed South African penguins to be exhibited, including the engineering that will allow spectators to see the penguins underwater.
A couple of final points, given that there’s really no point in us going on and on about a tax-rate neutral bond package that’s so clearly a win-win for all. Every time our zoo has added permanent exhibits, attendance not only has increased but remained sustainable over subsequent years. Second, many zoo exhibits and amenities are funded through private donations, including the giraffe-feeding station (2014), Galapagos tortoise exhibit (1995), bald eagle exhibit (1994) and Grand Cayman blue iguana exhibit (2019). So let’s show faith in private donors such as Dutch and Carol Schmidhauser whose $1 million gift to the planned veterinary clinic has shaved off the cost of the bond package for the rest of us to assume.