By LESLIE EIKLEBERRY
What began as the dream of a unique visionary and philanthropist is now celebrating its 20th year.
Rolling Hills Zoo officials announced Thursday morning the zoo will have a year-long celebration in 2019 for its 20th anniversary.
More than 250 people were at the zoo on opening day (Oct. 27, 1999) to see the late Charlie Walker’s dream come to life. Today, more than 87,000 people visit RHZ annually. More than 68 percent of those people come from outside Saline County.
And while RHZ has changed over the past 20 years, Walker’s standard for excellence remains a guiding force in all that is done at RHZ, according to Robert Jenkins, RHZ executive director. That standard, Jenkins said, is “if you can’t do it right, don’t do it.”
Jenkins attributed RHZ becoming a top regional tourist attraction to Walker and his vision for building an outstanding facility, the quality of the staff, and the quality of the animals.
RHZ employees 40 full-time employees and 41 seasonal employees. It has five interns and 168 community volunteers. RHZ generates annually nearly $128,000 in payroll taxes and more than $70,000 in sales taxes. Additionally, RHZ spends more than $4 million each year on goods and services, with a majority of those expenditures recirculating in the local economy. In fact, since its beginning, RHZ has contributed to the economy more than $20 million in capital costs and more than $73 million in operating costs, a majority of which was spent locally.
The 20th celebration will include a special exhibit in the Earl Bane Gallery that will visually take visitors back to the creation of the zoo, Jenkins said. The exhibit will include interactive displays, a build-a-zoo Lego construction site for children, and a memory wall on which visitors can share their memories of RHZ, Jenkins said. The exhibit is scheduled to open in April.
A “Remember When” documentary, featuring the stories of those involved with the zoo throughout the years is scheduled to be out this spring and will be shared a variety of ways, according to Linda Henderson, RHZ director of development and marketing.
Additionally, RHZ will have monthly specials including the following.
- January — 20-percent-off admission on Sundays
- February — Take gently used towels and blankets to the zoo by February 10 and receive 20 percent off your Wild at Heart order.
- March — 20 cent fountain drinks at the Overlook Restaurant during Sprint Break: GO WILD! March 9-17.
- April — Receive 20 percent off all items from the Elephant’s Trunk Gift Shop on April 27, the opening day of the 20th-anniversary exhibit in the Earl Bane Gallery.
- May — 20-percent-off admission on Memorial Day (May 27).
- June — $2 foot-long hot dogs at the Overlook Restaurant on Father’s Day (June 16).
- July — 20 percent off Dippin’ Dots at the Overlook Restaurant on Sundays in July.
- August — Back to School Blast 20th Anniversary Celebration — half-price admission for everyone.
- September — 20 percent off adult admission with a paid child’s admission on Grandparents Day (September 8)
- October — 20th-anniversary celebration party on October 26.
- November — 20 cent hot chocolate at the Overlook Restaurant on Saturdays in November
- December — 20 percent off at the Elephant’s Trunk Gift Shop for sales more than $50 on Saturdays and Sundays through Christmas.
For more information about RHZ events, go to rollinghillszoo.org.