Lion Country Safari park looking to add 10 acres to enhance walking area of the wild animal park

LOXAHATCHEE, Fla. — Lion Country Safari is hoping to add 10 acres to enhance the walking area of the wild animal park.

According to the park's planning consultant, the 10 acres is an irregularly shaped area situated between the drive-through area of the park and the "walking safari" area.

The idea is to enhance the walkway by incorporating more natural area around it.

Lion Country, which opened in 1967 as the first cageless zoo in the country, is a popular tourist attraction, with a 4-mile driving path through what looks like an African plain with free-roaming lions, zebras, giraffes and other animals. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, it also contains the 55-acre "Safari World" with rides and other animal exhibits, and a 233-site campground.

Lion Country's consultant, Kerry Kilday, said he hoped to meet within the next few days with District 6 County Commissioner Jess Santamaria on the park's property to show him the planned changes.

"We're just getting a surveyor and an environmentalist to look at the land," said Kilday. "The park likes to add something new on a continuing basis and it seems like a natural way to expand."

He described the 10 acres as parcel of land sandwiched between the area where cars drive among lions and a walking area, which would be made more meandering if the changes are approved by county, state and federal authorities.

After Kilday talks to the park's owners and gives Santamaria a tour, the next stage would be to make sure that there are no wetlands or cypress stands that would be affected by alterations to the area.

"They might have to modify their existing permit," said Anita Bain, bureau chief of environmental resource permitting for the South Florida Water Management District, a required stop on the path to incorporating the 10 acres.

After Bain's department reviews the plans, they would next be sent to the Army Corps of Engineers for federal permits.

"Good luck with the permitting," said Joanne Davis, community planner for the 1000 Friends of Florida, an environmental watchdog group. "They do have some wetlands out there and the Water Management District is probably going to have quite a bit to say about that."

Davis said she had already put in calls to Santamaria and to County Commissioner Karen Marcus regarding the proposed changes.

"What would be fine would be to put a boardwalk in there without damaging the cypress."

Lion Country's owners last year gained Palm Beach County's permission to rezone some of the property's 600 acres for residences, a move opposed by residents and environmentalists as opening the door to sprawl in the rural area where the park is located.

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