By Marc Lutz
Business Journal Editor
LODI — It was 60 years ago today that Micke Grove Zoo opened its doors to the community. This Saturday, August 12, the zoo will hold an anniversary celebration to highlight all the changes that have occurred in recent years.
The five-acre zoo is nestled inside Micke Grove Park, which opened in 1938, a gift from William and Julia Harrison Micke, local philanthropists for whom the park is named.
On Saturday, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., the zoo will host educational booths, food trucks, live music, kids’ activities, games, zoo tours, live-animal presentations and giveaways.
In addition to all the above, the new playground inside the zoo will be unveiled to the public. Henry Hansen, who used to own Richmaid Restaurant in Lodi, was a friend to Mr. Micke. The playground was built using a donation from his estate.
In recent years, the zoo has taken on capital improvement projects to stay current. Among those projects was a new fence along the back of the property and updates to the sewer.
As important as those projects are, “Nobody wants to come see a fencing project,” said J. Kevin Hertell, Micke Grove Zoo and Interpretive Services Manager. The updates are necessary for recertification with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
The zoo has also undergone two water projects, a lighting and paving project to improve infrastructure.
The funds come from $500,000 awarded by the state.
Most people, Hertell pointed out, want to see what’s known as “charismatic megafauna,” or, in other words, lions and tigers and bears. However, the goal of Micke Grove Zoo is to focus on education and having animals more befitting a five-acre facility.
“We’ve done a good job of sizing animals for the zoo,” Hertell said. That includes adding animals and expanding and updating enclosures as the budget allows.
The zoo is part of the Species Survival Program, which helps to bring animals from other zoos that might not be able to house them any longer.
Not only does Micke Grove Zoo have species from other parts of the world, they also focus on local animals, like the bobcat, that will help educate the public on animals commonly found throughout the Central Valley.
For several years, Micke Grove Zoo has held its Zoo Campers program during the summer and other school breaks, allowing children to learn more about animals and create enrichments for the animals. Enrichments are basically animal-friendly surprise packages that monkeys and other animals can open to retrieve treats.
The children involved aren’t the only ones who get something from the program. The parents can get involved as well.
“They are always offering good educational programs. It’s invaluable to me,” said Christy Richesin, who is actively involved with the zoo’s education department. She often volunteers with her son, working side-by-side. “They have the capacity to serve kids up to junior high, and they have opportunities for older kids to volunteer.”
Hayden Pacheco is one such teen who has been volunteering with the zoo for two years.
“I love it. It’s a great atmosphere,” Pacheco said. He explained that volunteering with the zoo is giving him job preparation skills. “It’s taught me that I have to be up at a certain time, that I have to work with people.”
Throughout all the changes and updates, it’s still a place for all ages to learn about nature and its denizens. For kids like Mindy Claypool, 10, who participates in Zoo Campers with her sister, Ella Claypool, 8, it’s easily summed up in one word.
“It’s awesome,” Mindy Claypool said.
For more information on park fees and zoo admission, visit www.mgzoo.com.