WEST ROGERS PARK — Chicago's little-known zoo at Indian Boundary Park could be shut down and replaced with a habitat to attract area wildlife, according to Chicago Park District plans.
The zoo, managed by its big sister, the Lincoln Park Zoo, was founded in the 1920s and at one time housed a black bear, llamas and a cow.
But the small zoo has fallen into disrepair, and its inhabitants have dwindled to just a few chickens, ducks and goats.
Now the Park District, which owns the property at 2500 W. Lunt Ave., apparently wants out of the zoo business.
"The zoo has been around for a very long time, and there’s a lot of nostalgia there," said Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th). "And people aren’t going to want to see it leave."
Silverstein has held two public meetings so far to gauge residents' sentiments about plans to close the zoo.
She said most neighbors are open to the idea of a wildlife habitat and the transformation of the one building on zoo grounds into an educational nature center.
"It used to be very, very vibrant and active," she said. "Now the only thing that’s left in the zoo are some goats and some hens. You’ll see a lot of empty cages."
Neighbors say, however, they've been fighting for years to get the park repaired.
"We tried for a very long time to do something about the condition of that zoo," said Michael Oster, former chairman of the park's advisory council. "We’re the only park [in the city] that has something like this.
"They let it fall into disrepair — I think it’s a crime, really."
On Thursday, one of the goats rubbed its white fur coat up against its wire-laced enclosure, while next door a handful of chickens pecked at the ground. The other enclosures were empty and overgrown with weeds.
The zoo isn't the only part of the park in need of renovation. About a year ago, a fire tore through the Indian Boundary Park Field House, a Chicago landmark.
A restoration is underway.
Dan Rockafield has lived near the park for 11 years and said the majority of people want to see the zoo restored.
"It’s unfortunate," the 53-year-old said. "I think that in general Indian Boundary Park is viewed as a regional asset. The zoo has been an integral part of that."
Rockafield also criticized the Park District and local officials for a lack of communication of their plans.
"I’m pretty distressed that public institutions ... don’t consult with the affected and impacted community," he said, adding that residents are beginning to organize an effort to save the zoo.
The Park District's plans include adding rain gardens, prairie butterfly gardens, savanna plants and conifer groves to attract owls, migrating birds, butterflies and other wildlife, said Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, a Park District spokeswoman.
The Park District also plans to designate an area for urban gardens, and throughout the year bring native animals, like hawks, snakes and turtles, to the park for viewing.
A petting farm and pony rides are also possible during the fall season, she said.
The zoo had an operating budget of about $90,000.
Sharon Dewar, a spokeswoman for the Lincoln Park Zoo, said Indian Boundary Park's zoo needed maintenance to bring other animals, besides the chickens and goats, to the cages.
Linda Hendelman said she's lived one block from the park with her family since 1977.
"I'm a little hesitant now about taking the grandchildren [to the park] with all the broken benches, falling down fences, lack of animals, graffiti and deteriorating wooden playground equipment," she said.
Oster said he hopes that at least for part of the year animals would be featured at the park.
Many times, he said, he's heard disappointed children visiting the small zoo cry out to their parents, "Where are the animals?"
"What are you supposed to tell them?" he said.