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Down on the Crean Family Farm

Opening this month, the educational exhibit at the thriving Santa Ana Zoo will feature rare breeds housed in barns.

July 05, 2004|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

While small zoos struggle to garner donations and cities grapple with tighter budgets, the Santa Ana Zoo is expanding, thanks to a combination of private and government funds.

The $4-million Crean Family Farm, which opens July 17, includes a collection of barns holding rare breeds such as a Dexter cow, American Buff goose, Saxony ducks and Narragansett turkey. A large red barn with a classroom will allow the zoo to host more school groups.

Officials expect the zoo's annual attendance, which is about 275,000, to climb above 300,000 once the exhibit opens.

"Across the country, some zoos are struggling, just like social services programs and city infrastructure programs have been," said zoo Director Ron Glazier. "We are unusual because we have been able to maintain what we have and expand."

Santa Ana has owned the zoo since citrus grower Joseph Prentice willed the land to the city half a century ago. Under the terms of the gift, the city maintains 50 primates on the property.

Seven years ago, zoo officials began planning the farm as a hands-on experience for children and a way to expand its modest display of animals.

Nearly $1 million came from the Crean family, owner of a recreational vehicle company, Fleetwood Enterprises. An additional $1.4 million came from the city and from state and federal grants. The zoo raised the other $1.6 million from private donors, including the Weingart Foundation, which gave $250,000.

"This is the largest single addition to be built at the zoo, and it's the largest public-private partnership we know of in Orange County," said John Floyd, the zoo's chief fundraiser.

The city budgets $1.8 million annually for the zoo, which has remained a priority despite the effects of the state's fiscal crisis.

"It is something that we want to support. We are very proud to have such an amenity," said Assistant City Manager Debra Kurita.

The addition meant restructuring the zoo staff to meet new demands without much more money. Maintenance work was contracted out while one new zookeeper was hired, Glazier said.

Friends of the Santa Ana Zoo, the zoo's fundraising arm, will seek grants to establish an endowment and continue nascent efforts to garner corporate support. Already, companies such as Western Financial Bank and PacifiCare have made donations.

Local organizations such as the Orange County Organic Gardening Club and the Orange County Gourd Society have contributed plants and helped install landscaping.

Zoo visitors will be able to walk through the farm area to barns that house the animals. The barns are painted with educational slogans such as "G Is for Goat." Employees dressed as farmers will explain wool to children while showing them the sheep.

"We have been seeing the signs ... for what seems like forever," said Rita Smalle, a recent zoo visitor and mother of a 3-year-old. "Soon enough, we'll be looking at the farm instead of the sign. It's great for the county. It's great for Santa Ana. It's great for us."

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