It's down to a goat, some chickens and a few ducks, but it's still a zoo. For now, at least.
Residents of Chicago's West Rogers Park neighborhood plan to host a series of meetings beginning Thursday to discuss what will happen to the small zoo at Indian Boundary Park, after the Chicago Park District in late May proposed to replace it with a nature center.
Residents have reacted strongly to plans that would turn the nearly 90-year-old zoo at 2500 W. Lunt Ave. into a nature area. The Park District's plan would feature rain gardens, savanna plants and conifer groves to attract native animals and butterflies. The zoo had once housed swans, llamas and a black bear.
Ald. Debra Silverstein, 50th, said the Park District told her its budget had been cut. "It's the intention of the Park District to take the animals away," she said Tuesday.
Should the zoo close, the goat, chickens and ducks would be moved to Lincoln Park Zoo, said zoo spokeswoman Sharon Dewar. Lincoln Park Zoo staff have been caring for the animals.
Silverstein said the neighborhood feels a lot of nostalgia for the zoo and that changes might be difficult for the community. Her office mailed notices and held public meetings about the zoo, but some residents felt they had not been adequately consulted.
As a result, a group known as People United to Improve Indian Boundary Park plans to hold meetings to collect input and present ideas to the Park District. Meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Wednesday and Aug. 27 at the Warren Park gymnasium.
People United hopes to give more residents a chance to participate in the process, the group's Dan Rockafield said.
The Park District plans to hold its own public meeting on the issue at 7 p.m. Monday at Warren Park. Park District spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner wrote in an email that the district would consider the input when finalizing a plan for that area of Indian Boundary Park.
Beth Berger Martin has lived in the neighborhood since 1994 and said she watched the zoo fall into disrepair.
"It went from being a jewel in our park to more along the lines of pathetic," said Berger Martin, of People United.
No matter what happens to the zoo, Berger Martin said, it shouldn't be done "casually."
At the group's third meeting, residents will vote on alternate proposals to present to the Park District.
The Park District spends about $90,000 a year to maintain the zoo, and restoration would cost about $2 million, Maxey-Faulkner said in an email. The proposed nature center would cost about $300,000 and "takes the concept of a neighborhood zoo into modern context," she wrote.
The Park District spent $50,000 on repairs in 1995 and $300,000 on renovations in 1984.
The nature center would include a pine grove, rain gardens with stone paths, and a butterfly sanctuary, according to a Park District rendering. The Park District also plans to occasionally bring in animals such as snakes and hawks for educational sessions.
The zoo was built in the mid-1920s by the Ridge Avenue Park District, Maxey-Faulkner said. A park district official at the time donated a bear, and nearby residents began donating ducklings and other small animals. At first the zoo housed a reindeer and a puma, but as animal-care standards changed so did the types of animals at the zoo, according to the Park District.
The park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.