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The pride of Franklin Park

Fran Cronin | 10/17/2012, 9:02 a.m.
Founded by John “Honey” Fitzgerald, the Franklin Park Zoo is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Christopher the lion, pictured here, continues to be a mane attraction. Fran Cronin

But to understand the value and challenge of species conservation takes not just money but education, says Linehan. An avid steward of this mission, Linehan understands education begins at home.

A new playground and other play spots that dot the zoo’s grounds emphasize this goal, as does its popular petting zoo.

One obstacle to neighborhood access, however, is financial. The entry fee for adults is now $17. To get around this barrier, Linehan and Zoo New England have instituted incentives to family memberships that encourage active use of the zoo. Free and reduced entry-fee days are generously sprinkled throughout the year. The zoo sponsors an after-school program that draws heavily from its neighborhood and all public and private Massachusetts school groups are free. The cost to attend the zoo’s annual summer camp program is kept low to attract neighborhood participation.

Hundreds of youth that graduate from zoo camp have gone on to be Junior Zoo Teens and then Zoo Teens. Last year, 55 teens between the ages of 15 and 17 participated in the Zoo Teen afterschool program and learned not just about the zoo’s animals, but management and work ethos.

Guest speakers talked to the youth about life skills, college and financial responsibility. Linehan said it’s not unusual for him to review resumes or college applications. From this group, a fortunate lot of 55 college students are selected to join the zoo’s Teen Ambassador program.  Last year, 25 students participated in this 400-hour international internship program.

“The zoo is the pride of this neighborhood,” says Linehan, “and needs to become its backyard.”