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Zoo Society has ribbon cutting for playground equipment
The next project is a flight cage for raptors
Ruby, the pot-bellied pig at the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo, is shown with zookeeper Becca Curtiss, left, and Zoo Supervisor Ashley Burdick, Thursday morning. The Great Bend Zoological Society hosted the Great Bend Chamber Coffee. - photo by photos by Susan Thacker/Great Bend Tribune

After more than a year of fundraising and preparation, the Great Bend Zoological Society had a ribbon cutting Thursday to celebrate new playground equipment at the Brit Spaugh Zoo.

The Zoo Society hosted a Great Bend Chamber Coffee at the site of the playground. Aaron Emerson, president of the Zoo Society, said the playground was the nonprofit organization’s big project last year.

“This wasn’t just our project,” Emerson said. It was a focus of the last Giving Tuesday, which generated substantial contributions through the Golden Belt Community Foundation; the Central Kansas Toy Run celebrated its 40th anniversary by making a donation; and funds came from the Great Bend Foundation, the general endowment fund from the Golden Belt Community Foundation, and the Riedel Family Endowment – Alan, Michael, Avis, and Clarence.

Features of the zoo’s updated playground area include a soft substrate that allows access to a wheelchair-friendly swing. 

Emerson reminded everyone that the Zoo Society is a 501(c)(3) organization that operates independently from the city-owned zoo. Membership is $25 a year for an individual or a family.

Past events sponsored by the group were Cookies with Santa in December and members sold popcorn during the Earth Day event.

Lion mural is tribute to Karen Neuforth

Recent projects the group funded are the large animal photos taken by Zoo Supervisor and Curator Ashley Burdick and the welcome sign on the east fence along Main Street, and the statue painting/mural restorations done by Great Bend artist Melanie Ryan. A mural on the back of the lion house is in memory of Karen Neuforth, a past Zoo Society president who died in 2021. “She was very passionate about the arts here, so we did that as a tribute to her,” Emerson said. 

Other zoo enhancements funded by the group are metal cutouts of an alligator, a bear, and a large butterfly. The society also restocks the lead kits used to test injured birds for lead poisoning when they are brought in for rehabilitation. The Zoo Society recently purchased new enclosures for the bird rehabilitation area.

“Our current fundraising project is for a flight cage, so when they bring in those rehab birds they’re able to get them up flying again,” Emerson said.

Burdick thanked the Zoo Society for its support. “They help us get some of the stuff that we don’t maybe have in our general budget,” she said. “They’ve done a lot to help us improve our grounds and make the zoo a more interactive experience for visitors.”

She said the Wine in the Wild fundraiser is also coming back to the zoo this year. It will be in September.