Save the Petting Zoo & Pizza Playground at the National Zoo!

“Dear PoP,

Would you be willing to do a post on an impending change at the National Zoo that local parents are trying to stop? We desperately need help getting the word out. Here’s the issue:

The Zoo currently has a petting farm with cows, donkeys, pigs, etc. that kids can visit and touch (my 2.5 yr old son loves it so much that he knows most of the animals by name). The Zoo also as a “pizza” playground that is one of the best outdoor spaces in the city for little kids/toddlers to play. The Smithsonian (which runs the Zoo) is saying that it’s going to close both the farm and the playground and shift the funds to other “priorities” even though the press is saying that the overall budget for the Smithsonian is going to actually INCREASE this year by $100mm.

Local parents have started to organize to resist these changes, but we’re just getting started and are a little bit at sea. But we do have a facebook group started.

More importantly, we’re trying to organize a “protest” at the farm for Saturday. The idea is to just show our support by having as many families come as possible between 10:00 am and 12:00 pm on the 26th.

Good luck!

50 Comment

  • Thanks for posting this PoP!

    Commentariat: for those that haven’t seen it, the playground in question is essentially a giant foam pizza that the kids can crawl, run, climb or jump on. It’s basically screaming for corporate sponsorship by one of the national pizza chains or even one of the local pizzerias. If anyone is or has a contact at such a company and wants to help, please join the facebook group. Or PoP has my email.

    And of course, if anyone is or has a contact at the Zoo or Smithsonian, that could help too…

  • The Smithsonian budget is getting cut just like every other govt agency. The press probably said that SI REQUESTED $100 million more for FY12 but Congress will certainly not grant that. The other “priorities” are peoples jobs which Federal money covers. Exhibits are covered by donations which have dried up for some of the museums. It is a shame that this is getting cut and corporate sponsorship is a good idea. I don’t think they are shutting it down because they don’t care.

    • Yea, there really needs to be some “reading comprehension” here folks.

      First, the additional “request” (good luck getting it through) was specifically to assist in the building of a new museum. It isn’t like they are just getting a hundred million extra to cover their current assets.

      Secondly, The Gov doesn’t pay for all of the Smithsonian. A full third of the Smithsonains yearly budget is private donations and private trusts, which have been suffering like the rest of the economy for the past few years.

      It’s all give and take. You want a new museum? Fine, then you need to reduce your expenditures elsewhere.

    • Actually, we have been told that the pizza playground was previously covered by a federal earmark and that the farm was previously covered by the federal budget.

      And no one is attributing any ill will or neglect to Smithsonian or Zoo employees. We just want to convince them that they’re overlooking how precious (and popular) this part of the Zoo actually is. And we definitely want to try to help them find alternative funding.

      • “previously covered by a federal earmark and that the farm was previously covered by the federal budget.” Doesnt mean that it will be there for the next FY. And, those are likely history anyway.

    • Add to that there is a 2 year wage & hiring freeze affecting Smithsonian Employees; meaning like everyone else, we have to do more with less. Most SI people I know are sucking that up; happy to just be employed.

    • The proposed zoo budget will be cut 2%-8%, which means something has to go. The Farm was a total earmark proposed by a congressman who said he would fight further Smithsonian funding is he didn’t get his farm. The Smithsonian itself did not propose this exhibit. The premise is good – teaching kids where their food comes from – but if it’s at the expense of scientific study and breeding of endangered animals (not to mention jobs), I’m all for losing the goats and alpacas.

  • It is extremely short sighted of the Gov’t to remove funding for such a beloved and educational aspect of the Smithsonian National Zoo. This is a wonderful place for kids to learn about and respect animals. I am very angry over this.

  • That goat has devil eyes!

  • I agree with other posters that people should maybe read up on the budget request before making too many judgements:

    The fact is that the Smithsonian is a huge institution, and the Zoo basically has to cut some money to make sure it continues to work on issues that affect the survival of certain species, not just the ability of children to play on plastic pizzas and pet goats.

    The total being cut may seem paltry ($250K), but that’s a lot of money for biological research funding.

    Plus, when’s the last time that anyone who is complaining ever donated any money to the Zoo? I’m sure there are 1000 families willing to donate 250 bucks to save it, so go organize a campaign and petition some parents at your kids’ schools.

    Frankly, I think the Smithsonian should start charging a minimum fee to US residents (or offer a $100 annual membership to all Smith. institutions) and more for international visitors (they do it to us in Europe), but I’m sure part of the federal charter says that this is not allowed since it is partially taxpayer funded. At the same time, they are help hostage by the whims of an ever-changing budgetary committee.

    • You had my until “start charging a minimum fee to us residents”.

      The Smithsonian is supposed to be “for the enjoyment of all”. I personally think that the zoo is enjoyable enough for kids without these little perks that are clearly “kids only”. There are plenty of other pizza parks and activities that kids can participate in outside of the zoo.

      It’s a zoo, not a playground.

  • Maybe charge a $1 per person per day… that might help a little.

    • The overhead and staffing costs would be greater than the income. It should be more like $12/adults and $6/kids 8 and older (under 7 free) – double for non-US visitors. Selling an annual family membership for $75 or $150 for all Smithsonian institutions would make more sense, though.

      The Zoo actually makes decent money from parking ($20?), though people who aren’t idiots realize you can park across the street for free.

    • As someone who frequents a Smithsonian Museum atleast a few times a month, my gut reaction would be not to. I’ve lived all around the world and after paying ~20 bucks to see something, being able to wander into a museum for 20 minutes to see one thing and have it be free is pretty neat.

      However, I realize that for the Smithsonian to flourish it needs a more dedicated and “non-political” source of funding.

      The problem is, one you start charging money there are a lot of expensies associated with actually collecting it. Paying ticket collectors, and sellers etc.

      Although, I don’t know why it can’t be automated, like metro fare machines. You visit a ticket machine, you buy your dollar ticket and then to enter the museum you insert your ticket into the turnstyle and in you go.

      The Smithsonian gets 35 million visits per year. I am sure charging a dollar will stop some of those visits but they should be able to collect ~30 million a year. Not a paltry sum…

    • Every time there is talk of charging the government says they will stop funding. The American people have already paid for their ticket through taxes. Having all this great stuff for free is something to be proud of and aligns itself with Smithson’s goal of disseminating knowledge. Even the poorest of the poor can visit these museums and get inspired.

      Even though an exhibit or two might be removed temporarily or completely, charging is not the answer. Once that has been implemented, it will never be reversed ending a 165 year tradition.

      • … an exhibit or two might be removed… Well that is where it will begin.

        Why have the Amazon exhibit? Hardly anyone visits that side. Why even stay open in the winter, no one visits?
        Why continue the Fonz program, no one knows what that reference means any longer… Why not allow a McDonalds or a Starbucks or a nice restaurant in – some great views in the park. How about make a greater effort to rent out space. The ideas are unlimited that might save this resource. .

        Nothing stays the same and unless a simple charge is instituted or something gives, other exhibits and programs will follow and the requested increase will disappear for sure. Not all traditions will / should last forever.

        $1 dollar is nothing and your taxes don’t pay for it today, maybe your great great grand parent’s taxes did. Automated machines, as Joker notes is brilliant.

        Get real – save the most we can or it will all close.

        • The economy will improve and then we are stuck paying $12-15 dollars to see our nations treasures. That is one tradition I would fight for any day.

          FONZ means Friends of the National Zoo, and isn’t a cultural reference. FONZ probably brings in thousands of dollars to help the museum fund exhibits so I don’t understand why you would want to cancel it. Every museum has a restaurant and companies rent out the museums for private events all the time. Closing during winter? Hundreds of thousands of people visit during the winter and leave donations and schedule events. Smithsonian employees actually work in the winter too restoring artifacts, doing finances and everything that it takes to run a world renown museum complex.

          One exhibit will close during a recession and we are talking about changing the whole way the Smithsonian operates?

          • It will not end there… you missed my point completely.

            And I have been there in the winter – “hundreds of thousands” is a clear exaggeration.

            I thought that FONZ was a volunteer group, not a funding option?

            $1 dollar a day per person is more than resonable – not $12 to $15.

            So what is the charge never goes away, the Zoo will be a better place.

          • I think you missed the point/tone of his post.

          • Frankie, I pay about $100 a year in FONZ membership. I visit about 15 times a year. The membership gets me free parking, discounts at all Smithsonian gift shops and at many zoos, aquariums and museums around the country, and I have the right to have a zoo birthday party for my child (for $300-400 more, of course).

  • The farm is nice, but not really essential – there are plenty more animals in the zoo. But the Pizza is unique and really fun creative playspace for kids. Should certainly be ripe for Dominos or some pizza chain to sponsor.

    And if you aren’t already a member of FONZ – join. You get free parking for one thing, so a household membership – $60.00 – is a bargain.

    • Agreed. Plus, it gives you a great place to park for free if you decide to wander into Rock Creek.

      Even if you don’t drive there, the $60 goes towards a great zoo.

  • This is a major bummer. A petting zoo can inspire at an early age a love for animals, and it is just a great way to engage kids, period. Kids love interactive endeavors and nothing at the Smithsonian is more interactive than this! I’d happily give to a dedicated save the petting zoo fund.

  • Too bad about the Petting Zoo.

    One point — I it’s good for us to be able to see the animals we eat. Kids, especially mini-urbanites, need to know what the burger patty used to look like or that things were lives before they were nuggets.

  • DC If I Care

    Maybe us FONZ members should threaten to withhold next year’s membership fees and demonstrate how much these attractions are actually worth. I’ll bet we wouldn’t even need to match the budget offset to save the goats.

  • Ironically, its the farm animals they seemingly can keep alive.

  • I know that the Zoo is federal, but it is quite telling that the $250K they will save is basically the cost of leasing 4 luxury fully-loaded SUVs for a couple of years for local pols.

  • Now for a more serious post. This is complete horseshit and the same thing the Arboreteum tried to pull with the Azaleas. Agencies take the most popular visible programs or assets on the chopping block first so they don’t have to make ANY cuts. Funding down? Well we’ll have to rip out the bushes that are probably our #1 draw. Zoo – well lets see, what is the one thing that gets the most RECURRING use from area residents, well of course it’s the kid focused petting/farm animal space and the outdoor area that is so hard to find in DC. Let’s cut that first to stoke the fires.

    Zoo – let’s look at your budget and find some other cuts..

    ALso, with our kids, we probably wouldn’t be FONZ members or support the zoo nearly as much as we do if the farm exhibit wasn’t there. I wonder how many FONZ memberships will wither with this short-sighted move?

    • I’m FONZ member and donate to the zoo because I care about research and educational opportunities on sustainability and preservation of animals and their environments.

      I have kids, and while we would be sad if the gigantic pizza goes, I think I and my kids will get over it. There are lots of great playgrounds in the city.

    • As a zoo lover and the parent of a toddler, I have to say that the farm animals are the best draw. City kids don’t get to see goats and cows up close every day and my daughter loves it more than any other part of the zoo. It’s very hard to take a 2 year old to an exhibit where it’s hard to see the animals. The petting zoo has to be the top draw for small children since the animals are up close and visible.

    • So the scheme – threatening to eliminate a popular program to squeeze out funding – actually worked right? Didn’t hurt anyone, didn’t raise any taxes and dragged in some more money. So what’s the problem?

  • My kid loves the farm! He calls the whole zoo Baa-Moo

  • Next time please contact me first for my permission to use my photograph. My contact info was right there on Facebook. Only because you are helping us get the word out about this situation am I not making a bigger issue of it. Thanks!

    • This is why parents in DC are so maligned. If you want your private life to remain private, don’t blog/friendface/twitter photos of your family adventures and children doing things that really aren’t that cute.

      I never put pix of my kids online because I honestly realize nobody cares.

      • I think she was referring to the photo of the animals (goats I think) that was up earlier. Not the human kids.

      • Whoa back shaq! The pix of the kids on the pizza is mine – which I sent to PoP so readers could see what the pizza was all about. I think Cynthia Longo’s photo – which PoP has since removed – was of goats. So don’t get your knickers in a twist. (Though really – how can you think those kids really aren’t that cute?

        • What’s amazing to me is that someone has her knickers in a twist over a photo of GOATS, but someone else is totally cool with a pic of her kids on the blog. Bizarre. The collective DCUM head would explode.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      Holy cow I didn’t see this comment. Your photo has been removed. The link was actually sent to me in an email. I of course will respect your wishes. Best of luck to you.

  • Before everyone gets all crazy about this specific playground, you do realize that this is how agency directors “protect” their budgets for all the crap that *is* expendable.

    They find the most popular program and say “if our budget gets cut, then *that* goes”. It gets people riled up, when in fact, many other things can be cut back instead.

    Don’t buy into the hoopla.

  • Maybe an anonymous donor will swoop in at the eleventh hour and gift millions of dollars to save the foam pizza.

  • You can use the photo; just next time please ask before you post. Most people will say yes.

  • The Smithsonian is supposed to be a research and archival institution. Not an entertainment service. There are plenty of playgrounds available for children. And in fact there are a number of petting zoos available in the area too.

    I fully support redirecting the funds to operate the petting zoo to more worthwhile SCIENTIFIC purposes.

  • There’s more to the pizza than a playground actually. It is surrounded by interactive exhibits showing where all the ingredients for a pizza come from – farming vegetables, growing & milling wheat for the crust etc.

  • All this fuss for a foam pizza playmat and a really bad version of a petting zoo? To each his own, I suppose. My kids have never been impressed by either of these things but if there is a large group of families that enjoy it, then it should be retained. Really hard to believe that it is that expensive to maintain either of these things.

    The zoo has been a terrible disappointment lately. So much money has been spent to tear apart and rebuild the middle of the zoo. The departure of the African animals like giraffes, rhinoceroses, and hippopotamuses was just wrong. At least the lion cubs are outside and playing!

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