LAKE GEORGE - Granville animal handler Cindy Bardin thinks it's about time Lake George Village had a zoo to offer both locals and visitors, and she knows just the spot for it: the beleaguered former Gaslight Village property. Last week Bardin and partner Kathy Gilbert presented their plan to the Warren County Board of Supervisors, and they are now awaiting feedback.
Although Bardin said the board seemed receptive to the proposal, one potential stumbling block is land ownership. The Gaslight property is public land, yet Bardin's theoretical zoo and "Jungle Room"- an outgrowth of her event/party business, Exotic Animal Experience - would be a privately owned venture. Bardin personally owns and cares for the various animals that would reside at the zoo (including tigers, cougars, foxes and monkeys), and has the necessary fencing, but doesn't currently have development capital. A partnership in some form would be a necessity.
"I think it would be good for tourism, and would serve the area even in the winter," Bardin said, struggling to be heard over a baboon screeching for a bottle in the background. "The Opera House would make the perfect monkey dome."
Bardin could use it. A recent divorcee, she says she desperately needs to find a new home for her animals, and feels Lake George, with its stream of summer visitors and local population, yet no nearby zoo, offers the perfect locale. Prior to the Gaslight proposal, she spent five months in discussions with Six Flags Great Escape, which had expressed interest in expanding its petting zoo. Ultimately the company deemed the required renovations too expensive to justify, and declined to tackle the venture, prompting Bardin to explore options in the public sector. However, the reaction to her brief speech at the recent county public meeting concerning Gaslight Village didn't quite reassure her of the plan's potential for acceptance.
"The public wasn't very nice to me," Bardin said. "One person said the zoo should only have Adirondack animals. Why would I do that? Animals are animals."
Those that she encountered at the public hearing, however, had turned out to demand that the Opera House and Cavalcade of Cars buildings on the Gaslight property be demolished, and not used for events, festivals - or this latest proposal, a zoo.
But motivated by an obvious passion for their work, Bardin and Gilbert are hopeful they will eventually find the right spot for their venture. The public proposal is still a viable option, and if a private investor comes along first, she'd be more than happy to explore that avenue, as well. Either way, she believes the area can only benefit from the zoo's presence.
"I have happy, handle-able animals, that all respond to their names, and show off when called," she adds. "They'd definitely bring people back to the area."