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Friday, July 19, 2013

Vote YES for your zoo and your big backyard

Posted by: Dr. Deborah B. Jensen, President and CEO


Did you know that, on average, residents of King County spend as much as 90 percent of our time within 25 miles of home? Given our Northwest love of all things outdoors, thank goodness we have King County’s 200 parks and 175 miles of regional trails to provide us access to nature’s wonders. Whether it’s an expansive network of open spaces and trails or Woodland Park Zoo’s beloved 92-acre urban oasis—we all win when we protect our big backyard.

That’s why I encourage you on August 6 to vote YES on King County Proposition One and renew essential support for King County Parks, suburban city parks and Woodland Park Zoo through 2019.

A young girl connects with nature at the zoo's award-winning Humboldt penguin exhibit. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Svane.

General fund support to King County parks was eliminated as of 2011, so keeping parks open and safe depends on you, me and other county residents renewing two 2007 voter-approved measures that expire at the end of this year. What it boils down to is 18.77 cents per $1,000 property valuation, or about $56 dollars per year for a family living in a $300,000 home. 

The levy is crucial for the zoo. Let me show you how a modest investment translates into major payoffs. 

First, we’ll be able to sustain the financial health of this widely-loved, 114-year-old community icon. The proposed levy funds to support the zoo, $4.3 million dollars each year for 6 years, equal about 12 percent of our overall annual operating budget in 2013. 

Woodland Park Zoo funding sources. Projected 2013 operating revenue: $34.9 million.

For every dollar you and I invest in the zoo as tax-paying residents (blue), the zoo more than doubles that dollar’s impact with revenue from memberships, ticket sales and donations from private individuals (green and orange). Each side leverages and benefits from the support of the other. This healthy synergy sustains our mission to engage more than one million people each year in learning, caring and acting to help wildlife and create a more sustainable world.

Passing the levy is also crucial to meet the growing needs of urban and suburban families, and to help educators use nature to get kids hooked early on science and learning—and stay hooked throughout their school years. 

Seventy-five percent of families visiting the zoo have children under 8 years of age. To connect more kids to nature, we’ve grown our early childhood education programs significantly, from lively animal encounters in the wilds of Zoomazium to action-filled camps and classes and overnights to new, interactive Adventure Packs and our popular Little Critters outreach program with Seattle Public Libraries. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

One of the greatest gains made possible by funding from the 2007 King County levies has been helping all residents enjoy access to nature’s wonders. Our School-to-Zoo and Community Access Programs are two of several programs that have increased the number of K-12 students, teachers, families and youth from underrepresented communities participating in unique learning experiences only the zoo can provide. As a leader in informal science education, we’re pleased to augment school curricula and help more youth acquire hands-on, science-inquiry skills for life.

Following on the zoo’s highly popular ZooCorps program for teens, we created ZooCrew  to empower middle school youth to get and stay excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects. Continued involvement in zoo youth programs and mentoring encourages them to consider careers as scientists and conservation leaders. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Levy funds will also help the zoo strengthen our innovative field conservation programs, and engage more community members in saving endangered and native animals in the wild, such as Oregon spotted frogs, western pond turtles, and Oregon silverspot butterflies through our citizen science and Northwest species recovery and release programs. 

The zoo and its partners engage people in diverse opportunities for science learning and conservation action in local parks and regional preserves.  Here a young person trains as a citizen scientist through the amphibian monitoring program, surveying egg masses of native amphibian species to help prevent them from disappearing from our landscape. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Of course, there are many facilities to maintain, aging buildings to upgrade to more efficient standards, and new landscape immersion exhibits to create to bring people closer to animals and involve them in saving species. 

When you invest in Woodland Park Zoo, you’re investing in more than an institution. You’re investing in a quality of life and in sustaining it in ways that benefit people and wildlife right here in our big backyard. Over the last decade, zoo operations have generated more than $800,000,000 in economic benefits to residents and businesses in the Puget Sound region—a great testament to the success of our public-private partnership.

For more than a century, Woodland Park Zoo has been a vital community asset for all residents in our county and region. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

By passing King County Proposition One on August 6, you are saying YES to the value this remarkable park and community asset creates for families and schools, and for the animals and natural landscapes we all love. Thank you!

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