Opinion: Zoo’s 50-year lease with city, a perk of Long’s long and ambitious tenure


The placement of the news articles on page A16 in the July 6, 1969 edition of the Chattanooga Times was random, but he had foreknowledge of events to come.

An article trumpeted the success of Zooville, a new addition to the city’s Warner Park, which drew more than 3,700 people a week.

“We are very pleased that Zooville is proving to be such a successful attraction,” city commissioner Steve Conrad said at the time. “The response from the public has been beyond our expectations.”

The pet store, the article noted, allowed people to interact with, pet and feed a small variety of farm animals.

Elsewhere on the page were the results of the Lakeside Optimist Horse Show, which was held at the Champion Stables. Among those who placed on the show was Darde Long, who took second, fourth and fifth place in three categories while riding Dream Boy.

Within two decades, Long’s life and that of the zoo would become inexorably linked and would continue to endure today.

We present this premise because last week the Chattanooga City Council unanimously passed a resolution authorizing a new 50-year lease for the Chattanooga Zoo. The lease authorizes the zoo to pay the city $1 per year for rent on its approximately 14-acre plot in Warner Park.

The town and zoo were operating under an 11-year lease that expired on May 14. In this agreement, the city would give the zoo $1 for every $2 raised by the zoo for capital improvements, up to $250,000 per year.

Long, the zoo’s president and CEO, the same Long whose horseback exploits were trumpeted on the same 1969 page as the article touting the new Zooville, welcomed the deal.

“We believe that the partnership between Friends of the Zoo and the City of Chattanooga is by far one of the strongest and most beneficial partnerships in our community,” she said in a statement emailed to the log. “The Zoo has continued to grow and prosper under the direction of Friends of the Zoo, and each new program, enhancement or exhibit creates an even more valuable resource for members of the local community and those who travel to Chattanooga.”

But the zoo’s prospects haven’t always been so bright.

The city, as it did in 1969, continued to operate Zooville, but what was written in the newspaper in 1980 as a humorous “bright” about the zoo showed the city’s lack of real interest in engage in the national shift towards the natural habitat. exhibitions and conservation education.

It seems the deer at the zoo had four offspring, but the city had no way to care for them. City Commissioner Jim Eberle said he got an offer to buy them — at $25 apiece — and closed the deal. Asked by a reporter who bought them, he didn’t know, but said, “I got the city a hundred bucks for some deer, we didn’t need any surplus deer.”

Asked what the buyers were going to do with the deer, the commissioner again replied that he did not know. What if they roasted them? he was asked. Realizing that it might not suit him, he left to make a phone call. A few minutes later he came back saying that a woman from Signal Mountain had bought the deer and would keep them on a five-acre lot. And, he said, “she’s not going to grill them.”

In 1985, visitors to the zoo began writing letters to the two daily newspapers of the day complaining about “sickly and lifeless” animals and cramped cages, animals whose “sad” behaviors could be seen on their faces, of animals with matted hair and eyes and a “cruel” existence, and on hungry, frightened and lonely animals. One letter even suggested the city close the zoo.

Later that year, Long, who had attended Auburn University and been an assistant at a 23rd Street veterinary clinic for three years, was made a zookeeper.

“I’m thrilled with this job,” she said at the time. “I will work with [nonprofit] Friends of the Zoo, and we’re going to make some changes, some improvements.”

Eventually, she moved the zoo toward accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, steered it towards nonprofit status, and spearheaded plans for facility renovations and education.

A master plan for the zoo was adopted in 1993, accreditation obtained in 1998 and the master plan updated in the early 2000s. Since then, several exhibits have been created, the zoo has expanded and the animal diversity s increased, such as giraffes, meerkats and anteaters.

The constants have been Friends of the Zoo and Long, who has led the organization for almost 37 years and whose lifelong love for animals – evident even when Zooville was a first-timer at Warner Park – has guided the zoo to become one of the main attractions of the city. .

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