After closing five years ago because of budget constraints, the Lords Park Farm Zoo in Elgin is thriving again, with 3,400 visitors in the first three weeks since reopening.
"So far it looks like I remember," Elgin resident Meggi Anderson said Tuesday as she watched the three new baby elk with her daughter Lindsey, 12, and 5-year-old family friend, Vern. "We are very excited that you can just walk in. It's nice that you can make a donation."
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The farm zoo is free and only asks for a donation near the gate, where volunteers count visitors and answer questions.
After closing about five years ago, the zoo reopened recently on a two-year trial, said Terry Gabel, spokesman for Friends of Lords Park Zoo. The nonprofit group has donated thousands of dollars toward the operations and has solicited area farmers for animal additions.
The zoo now has two cows, two pigs, three sheep, a llama, two bison, four deer, and seven elk, including four that were born only two weeks ago.
Gabel says the zoo's mission now is to focus more on education, with plans for signage explaining what visitors are seeing.
"The fact that it's free makes it nice for kids groups," he added.
In addition to volunteers at the gate, at least two temporary summer employees of the city of Elgin work at the zoo each day. They prepare the grounds and animal enclosures for visitors, and clean the animal pens in the barn each day.
"Surprisingly, the donkey and the pigs are the easiest to clean up after," said Nick Cetera, an Elgin summer employee who is studying animal ecology at Iowa State University. His hours spent at the farm zoo will be applied toward the 400 needed to graduate.
The Lords Park Farm Zoo is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day until Aug. 15, at 325 Hiawatha Drive, Elgin.
Anyone interested in loaning animals or volunteering to work at the farm zoo can contact Gabel by emailing email@example.com, or via Facebook at facebook.com/LordsParkZoo.