DO THE ZOO
Terry Rich wants you to do the zoo.
But not just any zoo. He wants you to do the Blank Park Zoo, the only Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited zoo in the state of Iowa.
Rich (’74 speech communication), CEO of the Blank Park Zoo since 2003, is not shy about telling you why you should spend some of your leisure time at the zoo.
“More people go to zoos than to NBA, NFL, and major league baseball games combined,” he says, race-walking through Blank Park’s hoofed animal exhibits. “Every day at this zoo is like
a sold-out crowd at the Civic Center
[of Des Moines]. Around 25,000
school children come through here every year. Only the Iowa State Fair beats us in attendance. This place is
a natural attraction.”
And if the former cable TV executive has his way, the Blank Park Zoo is only going to attract more people in the future. Already last summer, zoo attendance was up 22 percent. And an expansion project beginning this fall will nearly quadruple the size of the
zoo in the next five to 10 years.
It’s all part of Rich’s vision for the
zoo. “We basically took the premise of a zoo being a ‘kiddy zoo,’ which is what most people believe – you go once when you’re a kid, once when you take your kid, once when you take your grandkid – and said, ‘How can we … build upon the people who already come? How do we get it so it’s a young adult place to go? A senior citizen [destination]?’”
So now there’s Zoo Brew, a popular after-hours summer series for the over-21 crowd. There’s Senior Walk, a time when older visitors can come in and walk the zoo during off hours. The zoo has hosted the Latino Heritage Festival, Asian Fest, and Mating Night – complete with Barry Manilow music to put tigers in the mood.
“It was a little scary at first,” Rich says. “The theory was that during the day we’ll always be like Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, but at night we can be
a little Pleasure Island.”
Of course, even at night there are events for the kids. Summers feature Friday Fun Nights. In October, the “Night Eyes” trick-or-treat event is the No. 1 Halloween event in the state of Iowa, with more than 30,000 people attending. (“It’s like filling Hilton Coliseum twice,” Rich says.) The zoo is also a popular place to hold a wedding, company picnic, or other special event.
Rich just wants to draw people –
lots of people – to the zoo and then
make sure they learn something new.
“My job is to make sure we have the right funding and the right management structure so that no matter who’s here, this is a zoo for everybody and for Iowa for 100 years to come. That’s the legacy we’re trying to build.”
More than a dozen Iowa State alumni and student interns work at Des Moines' Blank Park Zoo. Pictured are Daniela Graham, Kevin Drees, Colleen Murphy, Rachel Cohen, Keiko Sampson, Alyssa Frederick, Valene Hautekeete, and Anne Shimerdia.