Zoos want to know why they're excluded from stimulus funds

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GAINESVILLE, TX - When the Federal Stimulus package was approved in March many organizations and programs were looking forward to those dollars to provide much needed funding. But almost all zoos, aquariums, pools, golf courses and casinos are barred from applying for that money. And now they want to know why.

Frank Buck Zoo in Gainesville serves 20 counties in Texas and Oklahoma, mostly as an educational venue.

"Our annual visitation is about 65,000, a lot of that is the school groups that come through in the spring and on into the summer,” said Suzan Kleven, Frank Buck Zoo Director.

While they are seen as a recreational facility, Frank Buck provides a valuable service to the community.

"In the classroom is really important, but just to get out in nature and learn about animals is really important,” said Tammy Neese, a counselor at Bowie Elementary School.

And Kleven said they provide extra activities and programs that are even designed around theachers’ curriculums.

"We've got all sorts of packages to help bring to life their studies and their interests, so we really do bring a lot to the community,” said Kleven.

And it shows as teachers and students were all smiles at school trips Friday morning.

"Kids get to see the animals, everything we've been studying about, real life world experience, connect what we learn in the classroom and get out and see it all,” said Jody Long, a second grade teacher at Hayes Elementary School in Whitesboro, TX.

So while Kleven said she enjoys her work at the zoo and providing kids a positive learning environment, she’s not too wild about being ineligible for any of the stimulus funds.

"Well it's disappointing, definitely I sure would like to see money come this way I'm open to it definitely, but I'm not sure what I can do about that,” said Kleven.

Aquatic centers, golf courses, swimming pools and skate parks are also excluded because they are viewed as having low ranking civic merit. But Kleven believes that’s just not the case. And she said that after the recession, they too could use a little extra help.

"I'm not sure exactly why, we would love some of that stimulus money,” said Kleven.

Many zoo directors and lobbyists have appealed the matter to members of Congress, explaining that zoos are more vital to the community than they might think because they also attract vendors and tourists and employ many people. But so far the stimulus specifications are still in place.

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