By Tia Lynn Lacorchick staff writer
After months of standstill, the proposed zoo in Morgan County is officially moving forward with a new location and anticipated opening date for the Spring of 2015. Owners Michael Vaden and Bill Killmer have secured a property with 395 acres at the intersection of the southwest corner of Interstate 20 and Highway 83 as the site of the zoo, which will be officially named The Georgia Zoo and Safari Park.
“We were originally had a location eight miles south of the interstate and now we are essentially on the interstate, so it is a much better location,” said Vaden. Vaden and Killmer are hoping that the Morgan County Board of Commissioners and Morgan County Planning and Zoning Commission will approve their applications for conditional-use and rezoning by April 2014.
Once its approved, Vaden and Killmer plan to start building right away, stocking more animals for the zoo in June, hosting pre-tours of zoo in the fall, and officially opening by the spring of 2015. Vaden described the new location as an exceptional place for a zoo.
“My consultants have said it’s epic. Everything is perfect to build a world class zoo in our community: the topography, the rolling hills, the visibility from the interstate. It will be a better experience all the way around,” said Vaden. Vaden and Killmer plan to construct a traditional walk-around zoo in the front of the property.
Ninety acres near the back of the property will be transformed into a safari park where up to 20 people take an interpretive tour on safari vehicles with a knowledgeable tour-guide. “ It makes you feel like you are in Africa, or Asia or some other exotic place when you are back there,” said Vaden.
Vaden is optimistic about the potential benefits to the entire community. “The educational opportunities will be incredible and the economic impact will be outstanding for Morgan County,” said Vaden. “People who come to zoos are family-oriented groups, and they spend money.
They will fill up at out gas stations, eat at our restaurants, stay in our hotels. You really can’t get any better for the county than that. Vaden believes a recent state study confirms that the addition of a zoo to the county will result in sizable economic returns.
The state of Georgia released a study called “The Visitor Volume Demographic Report,” which concluded that 56 million people make overnight trips to Georgia each year and 13 percent of all sight-seeing activities were made up of zoos and animal attractions.
Vaden estimated that by year five of the zoo opening, that the zoo will, collectively, generate $86 million annually for the community The zoo will also create jobs for the community as well. The first year, the zoo will require 40 to 50 employees.
By year five, the zoo will need over 150 employees. “It’s going to be a stellar thing for the community. It is something that Morgan County can be really proud of,” said Vaden. It’s a unique experience, the crew of people and the team we have here is just stellar.
I have done this my entire life, bung exhibits, in my life of doing that i have a network of people that are just some of the best, zoo people in country working for us making this dream into a reality. To find out more information about the zoo, visit: www.thegeorgiazoo.com or the zoo’s Facebook page: “The Georgia Zoo and Safari Park.”