Animal education center makes sense to Fruita council

In this 2010 file photo, Janet Gardner, executive director of the Grand Valley Zoological Quest, talks at PetCo about building a zoo in the Grand Valley while an Amazon parrot named Makita sits on her shoulder and Dobby, an ectelus parrot, perches on her finger. In 2013, the Fruita City Council is interested in providing land for a zoo south of Interstate 70. Gardner says the ambitious project would require an estimated $5 million for the first phase, raised through grants and a community capital campaign.

The Grand Valley Zoological Quest

How great would a walk through an Amazonian rainforest feel right about now?

That possibility — or at least the chance to explore a multi-sensory indoor rainforest re-creation, as part of a new educational zoological facility right here in the Grand Valley — is a step closer to reality after the Fruita City Council last week expressed interest in supporting the project.

“When you walk in, it will be like walking into the rainforest,” said Janet Gardner, executive director of Grand Valley Zoological Quest, explaining part of her group’s vision for the project.

Gardner’s quest for the last two and a half years has been to get support, and potentially a donation of land, from a local government in the area, and it seems she’s found at least an initial partner in Fruita.

At a workshop last week, the City Council said it would like to see an agreement pursued with the zoo group, in which the city would make available a parcel of land south of Interstate 70 and west of Colorado Highway 340 — now the site of a number of city wastewater lagoons being decommissioned — if Zoological Quest can demonstrate support for the project.

Fruita City Manager Clint Kinney said the council believes “it’s a great opportunity,” and “now it’s a matter of showing that it can really happen.”

It’s an ambitious project, one that Gardner estimated would require $5 million — raised in grant money and through a planned community capital campaign — to complete at least the first phase of the project, which includes the indoor rainforest.

Other potential aspects of the project include another building that would house an aquarium, a pond or wetlands including a waterfall, and other picnic and recreation areas along the Colorado River that flows nearby.

The piece of property being discussed is ideally located, Gardner said. It’s visible from highly traveled I-70, is at the first major Colorado exit for traffic headed east and has attractions like Colorado National Monument, the Colorado Welcome Center and Dinosaur Journey in the immediate neighborhood.

The new facility would serve as a children’s museum of sorts, Gardner said, with “interactive educational manipulatives,” touch tanks and other aquatic life demonstrations, and a host of exotic animals on display.

She said she hopes to have Emperor tamarins, or small Amazonian monkeys, sharing the treetops with elusive sloths. Exotic birds like toucans and parrots are part of the plan, as are lots of different types of fish and insects. Tortoises and turtles are likely, and Gardner hopes to have a pig-like tapir and pygmy hippopotamus in the exhibit as well.

For Gardner, the effort is aimed at local kids who, in addition to their tendency these days to stay indoors and play video games or on the computer, have no resource for wild animal interaction in the area. Kids today are more apt to interface with a retina display than with a rhesus monkey. The closest zoological facilities are in Denver and Salt Lake City.

“There are so many great reasons to make that connection between children and nature, and that’s what we’re all about,” she said.

The ultimate goal of a full-fledged, accredited zoological facility is still a ways off, though.

Kinney said the City Council first will take up the parameters of an agreement with the zoo group, establishing progress benchmarks that will need to be met for the land deal to move forward.

For Grand Valley Zoological Quest, having the support of a city and a potential parcel makes the project more attractive in terms of receiving grants, which is what the group will presumably be focused on in the near-term.

Gardner was coy about how much money the group had raised so far, saying only that it’s accumulated “a very nice sum.”

Another obstacle yet to be overcome is the wastewater lagoons on the property, which are set to be fully decommissioned in about a year.

Gardner said at least one of the massive holes could become the wetlands she has planned, but Kinney estimated that it would cost $3 million just to fill in the lagoons to make them suitable for a new building.

Information about the project can be found on the organization’s website,, by clicking the “Rooting for the Rainforest” tab. A schedule of the group’s local events, along with ways to donate, are on the site as well.


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