Hollywild at a crossroads

Published 9:15 pm Monday, February 22, 2016

Hollywild Animal Park is at an important crossroads. As the new executive director of the Animal Park, I have spent the last seven months working to assess and face the stark reality of where the park stands while building a plan with our leadership team for the future.  Our community has two choices. One fills my heart for this Upstate treasure with hope-filled joy, the other option, with great dread. Even more heart-wrenching is that the road we turn toward is not mine to choose, yet I have made a personal and professional commitment to lead in whatever direction is chosen.

The fact is that without significant, widespread, and deep community support, Hollywild cannot remain the asset it is and can be. It will have to be closed. I would be in the heartbreaking position of leading that effort with dignity, in finding homes for the animals that will no longer roar in our backyard and provide an educational experience like no other.

We had a tragic 2015. This year and the years moving forward do not have to be the same. In working toward a future fully supported by our community, our leadership has worked with business leaders to gain a better perspective on our financial needs and operations. This assessment has never been done before and will be a key to moving Hollywild toward a firm foundation for the future. But it will require a significant fundraising effort. At present, my personal assessment says we will need to set a goal of $500,000 in fundraising this year with an annual campaign goal of at least $250,000 in future years. We are nearing the launch of this campaign. If we want to reach for the image of places like the Nashville Zoo, we will need more. But I do believe we can make great strides in improving Hollywild and what it can do for our community with the projections made. I fully believe it can be done, but only with the full support of our community.

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We are asking our community what it wants from Hollywild by hosting a Hollywild forum. It will be held at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 24, at the Spartanburg Chamber of Commerce and is open to the public. It is our hope that those with an interest in building a real future for Hollywild will attend to hear our plans to move forward and give us their input.  We simply cannot be a true community resource until we ask our community what it wants.

Paired with the forum will be an online survey released on our Facebook Page.

We need commitments from our community members to come and support us in the many ways they can if they wish for us to remain open to the public in service to our community and the animals who rely upon us for their care. Support us with your visit, as our budget is dependent upon admission income.

The Austin city zoo, though similar in structure to ours and having come through challenges very similar to ours, has over 200,000 visitors a year and dozens of corporate sponsors.  Help us build to that level.

Support us with your donations – project based or operations based, help us meet the financial needs we have and build our resources for necessary upgrades.

Support us with your in-kind gifts.  Businesses can get involved in helping us find corporate support for supplies we desperately need for all the work that needs to be done to make this great, not-so-little park the shining jewel for our community it can be.

In 2015 we were honored to receive first-time support from Polydeck.  We received a grant to hire our first, part-time, amazing new education/outreach coordinator from the Spartanburg County Foundation. Her efforts are starting to produce results in broadening our connection to our educational community. We are moving forward with other initiatives, a grant request made to Women Giving for Spartanburg, to find funding for new buses to better enable us to serve our mobility challenged visitors.

Those involved in these initiatives have seen the road that leads to an amazing new future for Hollywild. I am praying that the rest of our community will see that road too, and proudly walk with us as we journey onward.

We have already hired a new curator to be in charge of our animal department.  Mr. S. Nigel Platt is a seasoned veteran in the world of quality zookeeping, having served in numerous leadership roles with zoos in the US and his native England. He also served as an AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) inspector, giving him just the background we want to help us raise the bar on our practices here at Hollywild.

Our leadership team is committed to assessing our animal collection and planning for its future in a way we’ve not done before, making sure that we have a diverse collection to meet our goals as an educational institution while making sure that each animal has a long-term care plan. That may well mean sharing some of our collection with other facilities, but we are determined to do what is in the best interest for the animals.

Submitted by Kim Atchley