Kent County animal park opening despite governor’s orders

BOWNE TOWNSHIP, Mich., (WOOD) — Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park in Alto is preparing to open for the season Friday.

The park says it was not given explicit permission to reopen but is following the path of other small, privately owned zoos on the east side of the state that have opened despite Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s orders closing down most public places.

Inside Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park in Alto. (May 11, 2020)

The park will be the first zoo or animal park in West Michigan to open for the year. John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids and Binder Park Zoo near Battle Creek are closed with no opening day set.

Boulder Ridge said it was planning to open at the beginning of May. Normally, it would have seen hundreds of school children in the first few weeks.

Instead, manager Joshua Baker said, “It’s been a small skeleton crew. We’ve been mainly working with five people max. It’s usually a full day.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus do not address zoos or animal parks by name. While orders have ordered the closure of “places of public amusement,” they also allow public parks to stay open.

Boulder Ridge said that because there seems to be a gray area, it is going to put its team back to work with several changes for safety.

“A lot of cleaning, disinfectant. We built our own sneeze guards. We have those set up in the gift shop. We have some for our feed stations, too,” Baker said.

Inside Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park in Alto. (May 11, 2020)

The park will also require that visitors wear masks in the gift shop. Six-foot space markers will be laid out throughout the park. Buses used for safari rides will be switched out and disinfected for every ride.

The privately owned zoo said it must reopen: its only source of revenue comes from visitors.

“We’re just trying to maintain income. We got staff to pay, we have bills to pay yet, as does everyone else. It’s a struggle for all of us,” Baker said. “As long as there’s no issues, we’re hoping everything will go smoothly and we’ll open up just fine.”

The park opens at 10 a.m. Friday. Staff says rules will likely be adjusted as they work through their new normal.