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Zoo pond, parking lot to close soon

Ducks and geese at the Spring River Zoo are expected to migrate to other places once the city drains the water from the pond. Any remaining fish will be relocated. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Pond is expected to reopen in fall after improvements

The city of Roswell will close the zoo pond and south parking lot next month.

The Spring River Zoo pond is closing while city staff work to clean up the bottom of the pond, improve the area and shore up its south bank, Lead Zookeeper Andrea Cole and Parks Department Director Jim Burress said at the General Services Committee meeting Wednesday.

The south parking lot with a North Atkinson Avenue entrance is expected to be closed permanently, as the Spring River Zoo prepares to have only the East College Boulevard parking lot and entrance so that the zoo can obtain accurate head counts.

In the short-term, the south lot is expected to be used for special events, overflow parking and zoo equipment parking.

“Before we close it, we are going to have an electric sign giving people 30 days, letting them know that in 30 days the parking lot will not be usable,” Cole said at the Wednesday meeting.

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The sign was installed Thursday, and a city press release also was issued indicating a Feb. 23 closure of both the parking lot and the pond.

Cole said the parking lot closure was partly meant to acclimate people to having only one entrance “for the future to where we get to the point where we can charge.”

But City Councilor Juan Oropesa questioned that statement.

“It sounds to me like, from how the presentation is done, that it’s a foregone conclusion that we are going to be charging at the zoo,” he said.

Oropesa said that, regardless of his own view about fees, “Obviously this is a discussion that we have to make as a council.”

Burress responded that a decision hasn’t been made about admission charges. He said the zoo has made its obligations regarding cost-recovery goals for the year, and that it is possible that fees would not need to be charged in future years if the zoo is able to earn enough through donations and grant funds.

He added that the planned changes are in accordance with the master plan and that valid head counts are needed for grant funding applications.

The pond draining will address concerns with the pond and the surrounding area, Cole and Burress said.

Cole said the pond has silt and a lot of debris such as railroad ties and concrete on its bottom, and city employees are aware that the wall on the south bank is beginning to fall into the pond. An orange caution fence has been put up to warn people not to enter that area.

City employees have stopped adding water to the pond, so the water level has dropped dramatically due to evaporation.

Employees expect to work with the New Mexico Game and Fish Department to relocate any fish that remain, although not many are believed to be left after the fishing season and an algae bloom, Cole said. Meanwhile, the geese and ducks are expected to migrate when water levels drop too low once city staff begin pumping water out. One way or the other, Cole said, the fish and birds will be taken care of. Water pumping was expected to begin after the parking lot closure.

The rehabilitation plans for the pond include putting new grass in the area and creating a terraced wall for the south side area. New signage is also expected to be installed. Burress said there is a waterfall in the trees on the south side of the pond that also will be “taken care of” and an artesian spring that needs to be located and protected.

The zoo plans to have a reopening event in the fall for the pond, which is expected to be restocked with fish.

Burress said he cannot estimate the cost of the project until the pond is drained.

City Councilor Jacob Roebuck said that he appreciated that the staff cleared up a “gray area” and asserted jurisdiction of the pond and its animals. Some city representatives had thought that the Game and Fish Department owned the pond. Also, at one point in 2012, a group calling itself the Spring River Pond Partnership — which included divisions of a couple of state agencies, fishing groups, the city and other local entities — had plans to upgrade the pond. Requests for comment by the Game and Fish Department were not responded to by press time.

City Councilor Savino Sanchez said he liked the direction of city staff and asked that City Council be kept informed of progress.

“I do believe it is something that has been neglected,” Sanchez said, “and we have done that in several things here in the city and we need to be taking care of them, all these items we have, and taking care of them for the public.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.