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Watertown explores future of Zoo New York

Zoo New York

Zoo New York in Watertown is facing financial challenges. The zoo cut back operations and is closed to the public until further notice.

Several employees were temporarily laid off with Zoo New York saying it has maintained essential employees focused on animal care and basic facility maintenance for the winter.

Larry Sorel, the former executive director of Zoo New York, said the cutbacks are the result of 15 years of financial challenges.

"The animals are being taken care of just like they would if we were under normal operation and we're doing everything we can to ensure the sustainable future of the Zoo," Sorel said. "We don't want a one-time fix, and then a year or two down the road be in the same position. We need to figure out a long-term sustainable strategy."

In November, the Watertown City Council approved providing $60,000 to the Thompson Park Conservancy which operates Zoo New York.

At a later work session, elected officials explored options for the zoo's future. One is an austerity budget using that previously approved $60,000 to get through the winter. The zoo would be closed and not have a way to reopen. Another option needs an additional $190,000 which would get the zoo through May. The zoo would be open on weekends in the winter and fully open in the spring. A third option is a hybrid, needing an additional $75,000 with the zoo reopening in May.

"We can't continue the way it is," Interim Zoo New York Executive Director Mark Irwin said. "We would rather it be closed than to have a bad zoo. We need to do it well or we don't do it."

Irwin said keeping the zoo open is important for quality of life.

"We have Fort Drum, a major economic driver in our area," Irwin said. "We need something for those young families to do. We want to have the youth of the community have good family ties, do something as they grow up and build those connections that we hear all the time in our community."

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.