It's been a place for free family fun for fifty years, but that's all about to change.
The Caldwell Zoo, a longtime Tyler tradition and one of the few remaining free zoos in the country, will be revising its policies next summer and charging admission. It will cost adults $6.00 to visit, and children three and older will pay $3.50. Group rates and senior discounts will also be available.
Zoo Executive Director Hayes Caldwell said, "We feel with improvements being completed in 2003, and having served Tyler and East Texas for fifty years, we just thought it was a good time to do that."
While the cold weather drove many of the animals indoors, new construction plans continued. By Summer 2003, they will be finished and the free ride though the zoo will end.
"Quite frankly, a lot of people ask us why we don't charge," Caldwell says. "We just see this as an excellent opportunity to change our program up somewhat."
They say the extra income will allow the Caldwell foundation to explore other projects, and this decision has been a long time in coming. Currently, there are two hundred and eight accredited zoos in the United States.
"Of that 208," Caldwell points out, "The Caldwell Zoo is the only zoo that has free admission, and does not receive public funding."
Currently the zoo averages six hundred thousand visitors per year, but they aren't worried about falloff.
"I'm not going to say that everybody will totally support this," Caldwell theorizes, "But we hope that overall the general support of the zoo will continue and people will come and enjoy our zoo."
So one of Tyler's best free family experiences will be ending next year. And the zoo hopes you won't turn your back on the park. So for the next six months, enjoy the experience. It's a chance to see old friends for free for the last time.
The zoo will begin charging admission next summer, after they finish their six million dollar, three year construction project. Caldwell Zoo will also be celebrating fifty years of service to the East Texas area in 2003.