One of the best attributes of Garden City, Kansas is that it’s always changing and growing, sometimes even in ways you might not have expected. Take for example the Lee Richardson Zoo, one of the best-ranked zoos in Kansas (if not the region). You might expect perhaps some new animals, like the baby red panda cubs that joined the zoo in August – oh my goodness they are cute – or maybe you heard about the entire rebuilding of the primate exhibit. But would you have expected a carousel?
That’s right, the Conservation Carousel, a collection of various hand-crafted animals now dances circles around Lee Richardson Zoo, along with that nostalgic music you’ll instantly recognize. Perhaps you didn’t see it coming, but the Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo, a non-profit organization that helps spearhead some of Lee Richardson Zoo’s programs as well as a number of related conservation and public outreach campaigns, have been working to make this new feature happen for some time.
Whether at the Finney County Fair, or another nearby carnival, you’ve probably ridden on a carousel at some point in your life, but have you ever given thought to how those intricately designed animals are created? The intricate detail, the perfect touches of color, each seems like a priceless work of art.
Carousels date back to the 1600s when horsemen would spear small rings hanging from overhead poles emulating earlier jousting games that had since ended. Around that same time, the carousel we know, designed primarily for children, was created along with their famous wooden horses, as a way for commoners to participate in these activities.
The carousels grew bigger, the animals more intricate, and the steam-powered engine invention brought the ability to bring life to the horses with up and down galloping mechanisms. Most horses that adorned these carousels got their start from multiple sections of wood that are glued together, and then hand-carved, little by little until an amazing sculpture was all that was left.
It’s a craft that has been handed down over the centuries from one craftsman to the next, and one of the world’s most renowned artists of these carousel animals resides right here in Garden City.
Bruce White has been hand-crafting carousel rides for decades (in fact, he even wrote the book on it). He’s worked for Chance Rides (a company located in Wichita, KS that manufactures various amusement rides from trains to roller coasters), and he’s even had his own shop in Kinsley, KS. Bruce has created carousel animals for carousels across the country, and several of his carousels still operate in various museums and zoos. You’ve probably even seen his carousel horses featured in Applebee’s Restaurants, where they are used as décor.
Bruce isn’t alone in his work though, the rest of his family is also artistic. His daughter paints the original animals that Bruce has carved, and he’s even built carousels with his brother, one of which is still operating at the Indianapolis Zoo.
Bruce has a very strong connection with his family, and it’s one of the primary reasons he donated the Conservation Carousel to the Lee Richardson Zoo. Bruce has many children and grandchildren in the area, and he wanted them to be able to enjoy his creations for years to come, while also helping the zoo further their mission.
Lee Richardson Zoo, located in the southern part of the city, is home to hundreds of different native and exotic animals spread across 50+ acres. It features various animal habitats, walking paths, playgrounds, picnic areas, but one of its’ primary missions has always been supporting animal conservation and educational programs.
There are more than 1,000 endangered species worldwide today, and only 3% of the total land area of our planet offers protected habitat for these animals. In some cases, habitats for certain species have been destroyed to the point where animals can’t survive in the wild. This is where zoos come in. Zoos help maintain the species and grow their population while in captivity. A number of different captive breeding programs have helps animals that have even been declared extinct in the wild be reintroduced back into the wild (like the Arabian Oryx).
The Conservation Carousel directly helps these programs, where the proceeds generated from riders paying only $2, help create more opportunities for these endangered species and habitats to thrive around the world. The Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo has successfully helped lemurs in Madagascar, and sea turtles on a plethora of beaches, just to name a couple of the most recent.
Soon, riders of the Conservation Carousel will even receive different collectible trading cards, with information about specific endangered species, along with information about how to help and why conservation matters.
So, while you may not have expected it, we know you are sure to love it. It’s a fantastic addition to a zoo that was already ranked amongst the best in the region, and it’s a great attraction for the entire family. The next time you visit Garden City, be sure to check out the Conservation Carousel at Lee Richardson Zoo.