Focus on the Mission

Rebecca StedmanFamily Fun, Fort Rickey

Animal Interactions at the Fort Rickey Zoo

The mission statement at Fort Rickey for over twenty years has been…. “We, at Fort Rickey, are committed to the belief that children, who experience the joy of kind and gentle interaction with wild animals, are more likely to grow up to be adults who care about protecting wildlife.”

For the Owners, Len and Roberta Cross, the key words in this mission statement are, “kind and gentle interaction” says Len. “The key to our success as a family attraction has been this focus…the understanding that their needs to be an interaction. Children are not passive learners, says Cross, a former Biology Teacher. Kids clearly learn best when they are engaged; when they can use all their senses to explore, to manipulate their environment and to actively participate in the learning process.”

“By encouraging children to cuddle a baby African Pygmy Goat or feed the deer or pet a porcupine, we are plugging into this natural desire to explore and investigate. This, in turn, leads to powerful learning and the formation of vivid, long-term memories”, continues Cross. “We hear from visitors all the time who have returned to Fort Rickey with their children and grandchildren. What they say they recall most vividly from their visits here as children are the interactions…the deer that took their cone away, the first time they pet a snake, the baby goat that nibbled on their shoelaces.”

“It is these deeply seated memories, formed in childhood, that make us as adults more responsive to wildlife and conservation issues. If we are connected to animals through these childhood experiences and memories, we are more likely to make decisions as adults that will favor protecting wildlife and wild places” says Cross.

As Fort Rickey moves forward into it’s 35th season, it is rededicating itself to this focus. “We are going to work harder and focus more on our mission as we move forward”, says Cross.

“With children more preoccupied with video games, computers and TV screens and, with children growing up more and more surrounded by concrete and asphalt, our mission becomes more important. We need to work harder to preserve the connection between today’s young people and the natural world.”

The staff at Fort Rickey are working daily on new ways to engage our families and to give them a personal connection to our animals. This year, we are adding close-up, contact opportunities with tortoises, Alpaca and a leash-trained Zebu calf. Additionally, along with our usual snake show, wolf talk, porcupine petting and Maternity Ward, we are preparing presentations featuring our Ring-tailed Lemur troupe and River Otter pair.

“The emphasis here will always be on clean, healthy outdoor family fun”, says Cross. Conservation and education are important goals for us but we understand that we have a much better chance of achieving those goals if our visitors are having fun.”

“By refocusing our energies on our mission and on the understanding that active participation and fun are critical to that mission, we hope to continue for many more years to impact families, education and conservation in upstate New York.”