Charles Paddock Zoo upgrade: New zoo view

A new gateway into Atascadero’s Charles Paddock Zoo — the facility’s latest construction project — is set to open Tuesday.

The revamped entrance — with a larger gift shop, new ticket booth, a food service area and restrooms — has been under construction at the zoo in Atascadero Lake Park since November 2009.

“In the past, the zoo entrance was tucked back and you didn’t notice it from Highway 41 or the lake park itself,” city Community Services Director Brady Cherry said. “It’s a lot more inviting (now) and we wanted to generate the public’s interest and curiosity.”

A critical need was also there, Cherry added, because the original entrance was so dated that it was considered a “tear down.” New restrooms were needed to comply with the zoo’s accreditation process and adding concessions gives more choices to patrons.

The roughly $700,000 undertaking is part of a new vision of projects for the city-owned zoo, including to one day build five new multispecies exhibits, that, when completed, would bring in new animals.

Looking ahead, officials want to bring in several million dollars through the zoo’s fundraising society by seeking funds one exhibit at a time, zoo director Alan Baker said.

More changes, slated for the near future, include the unveiling of the fisher exhibit. The fisher is a native-California animal related to the sea otter.

Upgrades to the marmoset exhibit will follow. That exhibit is scheduled to re-open in early 2011.

Established in 1955, the zoo is one of the smallest accredited zoos in the nation. It’s named after founder Charles Paddock, a park ranger who rescued injured animals and housed them in shelters at Atascadero Lake Park in the 1960s.

Recognized since 1991, the zoo is accredited through 2014.

The zoo’s standing within its accreditation association is essential because of the large network of resources it offers, Baker has said, citing the arrival of Menderu, the zoo’s new Malayan tiger.

Baker is now working with other zoos in the accreditation network to bring in “new and exciting animals,” Cherry said, hinting that there might be more details about that in the coming months.

Moving forward with planned maintenance projects and enhancing its relationship with the Central Coast Zoo Society was key, Baker said.

Previous fixes before the new entrance included replacing roofs, repaving and adding new public fencing.

Re-opening ceremony on Tuesday

The newly constructed main entrance to Atascadero’s Charles Paddock Zoo will re-open to the public at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. The ceremony will include refreshments and comments by community representatives. The zoo is inside Atascadero Lake Park at 9100 Morro Road. For information about the zoo and its events, visit www.charlespaddockzoo.org.