Paddock to grace entrance to his zoo

The late Charles Paddock, founder of the Charles Paddock Zoo at Atascadero Lake Park, is to be remembered in bronze, the Atascadero City Council has decided.

“As we all get a little older, it won’t be too much longer until no one remembers who Charles Paddock was,” said Bob Kelley, leader of the effort to install a bronze statue of Paddock in the new entry plaza now under construction at the zoo.

Kelley, an Atascadero city councilman, is acting as an independent citizen for this effort, he said. The council made its decision last week.

The statue concept didn’t come out of recent talks about renaming the city-run zoo to better suit Atascadero’s budding regional tourism campaign, Kelley said, but from the inspiration that people should know more about the zoo’s history.

When he moved to Atascadero about 35 years ago, Kelley said he was immediately smitten with Atascadero Lake Park and the animals that called its zoo home.

People ought to remember its roots, Kelley said.

Paddock was a county park ranger who often rehabilitated sick and injured wildlife. Those efforts grew into founding the zoo in 1955, which evolved into the accredited facility the city of Atascadero operates today.

To honor that, it’s proposed that the bronze statue be of Paddock holding a possum, which is said to be one of the first animals in the zoo.

The statue will have a concrete and granite base with a bronze reproduction of Paddock from the waist up. The possum would be at the position of a child’s height so they can touch its nose, he said.

“Hopefully, down the road they can come to the zoo with their children and say, ‘I pet the nose of the possum when I was a child.’ ”

Local artist Mark Greenaway designed the life-size statue, which is estimated to cost $18,000, to be paid for through community donations.

Kelley is establishing nonprofit status for the fundraising effort so the donations will be tax deductible, he said.

The proposal to change the zoo’s name is slated to go before the Atascadero Parks and Recreation Commission later this year.