Project 60 – SPLOST Testimonials

These are a sample of the testimonials we received from Athens citizens, past and present, whose lives have been in some way transformed for the better by our zoo.

I…believe that this… zoo plays a crucial role in our ever expanding urban city…it helps bring us and especially our children a glimpse of the natural world. This is one of the gems of Athens, and it needs our support!

Dr. Stephen Divers with the UGA Vet School from Athens, Georgia

Students of all ages make great use of the zoo and learn a great deal from it… I hope that the zoo gets the money that it deserves to continue touching the lives of many people.

Ms. Jackie Edler, Zoology Teacher at Cedar Shoals High School from Athens, Georgia

I am a 22-year-old Athens resident who visited Bear Hollow frequently as a child, and volunteered weekly for 10 years starting at the age of 9. Bear Hollow gave me many wonderful opportunities growing up, by allowing me to see and care for animals that we mostly don’t get to see in daily life, giving me a way to teach others about them, and giving me something to be in charge of as a kid/teenager. Most of my time volunteering was spent in the reptile house… [which] gives people the opportunity to interact with these creatures and break … misconceptions…

Wade Sheldon, Age 8 with Corn Snake
Wade Charles Sheldon, long-time volunteer, at age 10, with corn snake at an event.

The current building is not an ideal space for facilitating these opportunities, however, because it is a repurposed bear house from decades ago, and it has many persistent problems that can only really be solved by a new building built for the purpose. One of the biggest issues is the sloped floor, which is problematic for displaying aquaria … and … accessibility… Another big issue is lack of internal security measures, which limits public accessibility because someone must be present to have the space open safely, and that simply isn’t practical to have the space open all the time in a largely volunteer organization. A new reptile house designed with these issues in mind would allow Bear Hollow to provide these great opportunities to the public more easily and on a much more regular basis, and that would be a great benefit to the community.

Wade Charles Sheldon from Athens, Georgia

Hi, I was introduced to Bear Hollow late into my studies at UGA, and I’m so sad I didn’t know about it sooner. Now, every time I come back to Athens I make a point of trying to visit (and bring whoever I’m with). The volunteers and staff are amazing, and it’s genuinely an incredible place for both kids and adults – great for education and great for the community. It deserves all the help it can get!

Kathryn Morrell and child
Kathryn Morrell and friend at the photo op corner

Kathryn Morrell from Cumming, Georgia

Dear Sir or Ma’am,
I really enjoy going to the Bear Hollow Zoo with my husband. Sometimes we take guests there. I anticipate bringing our future children there, as it is a fun and educational outing for all ages. Whenever I go, I see lots of young families and the kids seem very engaged. I really appreciate that it is free, which makes it accessible. The animals seem very well taken care of; I have enjoyed watching feeding demonstrations and talking with the naturalists, who are very approachable. I would like to see Bear Hollow Zoo continue in its mission and be afforded the opportunity to modernize and offer even more to its residents and the public. Thank you for considering allotting SPLOST funding for the improvement of Bear Hollow Zoo in 2020.
Laura Gordon
Laura Gordon from ATHENS, Georgia


My husband and I have lived in the Boulevard area since 2010. Bear Hollow is a wonderful place to have in Athens. There’s nothing else like it in the Area and is deserving to have its needs addressed. The last time we were there (less than a month) we noticed a large family of tourists – that were so excited about being there. We laughed with a brother and sister (5 & 8 yrs – guessing) as we would end up looking at the same animals. Bear Hollow should be treasured and taken care of and the proper changes made. Thnx!! Donnatella & Richard Alexander

Donnatella Alexander from Athens , Georgia

I’m Marilyn Estes. I’ve lived in Athens for 8 years, and I enjoy Bear Hollow Zoo. In 2015, I was a volunteer docent at Bear Hollow (after being a docent at Zoo Atlanta in the 1990s) and then a volunteer for special events. After my Atlanta experiences, I thought BHZ would just be a small “cute” neighborhood “zoo.” But after volunteering at Bear Hollow and seeing the effect it has on the Athens-Clarke County visitors and community, I quickly grew to respect and embrace it. The biggest reason? Aside from the Christmas parade, it is the only place in Athens I’ve seen that draws full diversity of the ACC population from every neighborhood, rich and poor, white and ethnic, very young to very old, single people to generations of families. Masses of people are drawn to the zoo, and the people at the zoo respond as well as they can with what they have. Both visitors and zoo employees residents deserve the much-needed improvements. (It doesn’t even have a bathroom!) Thank you!

Docent Marilyn Estes with Screech Owl
Docent Marilyn Estes with Screech Owl

Marilyn Estes from Athens, Georgia


As a UGA undergrad years ago I recall hearing about Bear Hollow Park and wondering how it was that such an interesting place existed in a residential setting. When I finally visited I realized what a special place this was and is. Fast forward many years later when my young son was introduced to the park by his grandfather on a visit back to Athens. It quickly became his favorite spot to visit when in Athens – he loved seeing the bears so much. Now fast forward again to when life brought our little family back to Athens 1 year ago – we settled in 5 points and the park quickly became our go-to destination when friends and family would visit and on days when we just want to enjoy a nice walk or the playground. My mother on her first visit was enamored with the park, a little hidden oasis, but did comment on how it felt a bit in disrepair and looked a bit sad. She was echoing my own thoughts, so I am thrilled to hear that there may be SPLOST funds to help. Please also let me know how I may individually be of assistance.

Kari Abernathy

Kari Abernathy from Athens, Georgia

We came to Athens in 1987 to attend graduate school at UGA, and from our earliest days here to the present Bear Hollow Zoo has been an important part of our lives. As cash-strapped graduate students the zoo provided a fun and free place for us to get out in nature, watching the animals and change of seasons. As new parents it provided a great place to take our son for a stroll and let him learn about and interact with animals. As our son grew up and developed his own love of the zoo, it provided our entire family with an opportunity to volunteer in the community, helping with animal care, upkeep and special events. For me personally, the zoo has served as a major inspiration and outlet for my photography, whether photographing the animals or over two dozen zoo events, and sharing the photos with the community ( It’s been a joy to watch so many Athens families discover and fall in love with this little zoo, but as a 30-year visitor I’ve also seen the zoo struggle to keep up with growing visitor demands and modern zoo standards. I strongly urge the SPLOST committee to endorse this important plan to modernize and enhance this wonderful community resource.

Zoo Day!
Zoo Day!  (Wade volunteers a lot as a pro photographer at Bear Hollow events.)

Wade Sheldon from Athens, Georgia

My son and I volunteered as a parent/child team for 9 years, doing weekly animal care and helping with special events. I will always be grateful to Bear Hollow for giving us that opportunity, as it gave us a special activity to work on together and gave him a sense of responsibility and community involvement that I know will stay with him throughout his life. I am proud to serve Bear Hollow again as Treasurer of the Friends of Bear Hollow. My long involvement with Bear Hollow allowed me to see the widespread affection that the community has for this facility and its mission to house non-releasable native wildlife, but I also received frequent feedback that the public expects more, including restrooms within the zoo and more viewing hours for the reptile house. I know first-hand that the current aging infrastructure cannot support the improvements that the community wants to see. I’m sure that investment in a modern zoo, new from the ground up, would allow Bear Hollow to continue to be a treasured community asset that residents will be eager to visit and proud to show to their guests.

Joan Sheldon with Barn Owl
Joan Sheldon, long-time volunteer, with Barn Owl

Joan Sheldon from Athens, Georgia

Dear Mayor,

My name is Miranda Hermes. I am a student at UGA, living in the Five Points area. I enjoy going through Bear Hollow Zoo. As an avid runner, I often go on runs through there, and I have invited my family and friends to go visit. I’m looking forward to the renovations to Bear Hollow Zoo because it is a very special place to me and makes this city more of a community.

Thank you very much. I hope that this Splost proposal gets passed!


Miranda Hermes from Athens, Georgia

Dear Friends,
During the summer and fall, we go to the zoo weekly because it’s an educational activity that is outside with good amounts of shade. Being outside in the fresh air, even though it’s hot and humid in the summer, is important to me and my family. My youngest son is eagerly engaged when going to the zoo. My two oldest children enjoyed the zoo during their early years of life. And we continue to appreciate the special activities as a whole family, such as the Halloween and Christmas lights. Finally, we attended several birthday parties there and know that it is a place to make positive memories with friends. We look forward to seeing the animals in the future and hope ACC will support the new development.
Paul Lee from Athens, Georgia

Dear Mayor,

I have lived in Athens for a little over five years now and I’m within a short walking distance of Bear Hollow Zoo. I visit the zoo frequently to see the animals, relax, and enjoy nature. I also love all of the special events hosted at the zoo like Boo at the Zoo and the Bear’s Birthday Party where the whole community can come together, have fun, and learn something about our local wildlife. The zoo is important to me because it is a home for non-releasable animals who are able to serve as educational ambassadors for their species. I urge you to consider [the Friends of ] Bear Hollow’s proposal for SPLOST to modernize the zoo. New buildings, animal habitats, and educational signage would be a wonderful investment for the Athens community and keep the zoo functional and thriving for years to come. Adding bathrooms and more accessible pathways in the zoo would also ensure that everyone can enjoy the zoo in a more leisurely and comfortable manner. Thank you for your time and consideration!

Lisa Jagoda

Lisa Jagoda from Athens, Georgia

I have been visiting the park my entire life and now with my kids. My son loves all the animals. When we are on our way he says “we see the hawk, bear, owl”. He loves visiting so much it’s his reward for being good. The park really does need some sprucing up and all the help they can get. Please help these animals stay healthy and make sure they have safe place to live.

Dawn Miller from Bethlehem, Georgia

I have lived here for 32 years and Bear Hollow Zoo has been a beloved destination from the beginning. My kids were Junior zookeepers and they loved the zoo. Now that they are grown my daughter takes the kids she nanny’s there every week to say hello to the critters and enjoy being outdoors. Renovating the zoo is a wonderful opportunity to make this resource even more attractive and also comfortable for the animals. Please fund this renovation!!

Deborah Dykstra from Athens, Georgia

My name is Marilyn Vickers. I have lived within a 15 minute walk of Memorial Park and the zoo since 1972. My children and I watched Fred Birchmore build his wall, and we walked the trail through his woods to the park and the zoo. Now I walk with my grandchildren over the extended trails, and we always end up at Bear Hollow Zoo. They love it! I appreciate the innovations over the last 47 years. I count it a privilege and a delight to introduce yet another generation to the wonders of nature at the park and zoo. I am proud to live in a community which values such public endeavors!

Marilyn Vickers from Athens, Georgia

I moved to Athens in 1973 and as I lived near Memorial Park, it became the playground for my young children. We spent many days walking around the lake and through the zoo. My recent involvement with the park has come from my time with the Weed Warriors, walking the trails, and a garden club project involving removal of invasive plants and planting trees. I’ve always loved the park and the zoo and felt we were lucky to have them. I think the zoo does need some modernizing though, and should be on the new SPLOST list.

Lili Ouzts from Athens, Georgia

I have lived in Five Points off and on for over 20 years and been going to Memorial Park for over 25 years. I currently live a few houses up from the entrance and I have witnessed, first hand, how much the park is appreciated and used, not just by people in the neighborhood, but people from all over ACC, and probably outlying areas. I walk my dogs in the park every day, play Pokemon in the park regularly , walk the Birchmore Trail walk through the zoo on occasion and even vote there. My kids grew up in the park and I see families from other neighborhoods fishing, walking, and playing int the park daily. The parking lot is beyond full at every event, which happens almost weekly, blocking traffic on nearby streets. Though I do not see this as a terrible problem, and welcome people from all over ACC, it is clear the park is well used and in need of improvements. I dare say the park is the heaviest used non-sports park in ACC and is certainly part of the reason I live where I live. The biggest problem(s ) I see, other than outdated animal facilities, are parking and water runoff . This proposed plan addresses all of these problems as best as possible, given the limitations of the site. I fully support any effort to improve the facilities, trails, runoff and traffic flow at Memorial Park. I hope the SPLOST committee will give due consideration to this amazing resource that is truly open to everyone in ACC.

David Berle from Athens, Georgia

I love coming here with my dogs. It’s a very beautiful and peaceful place. Sometimes we come just to enjoy the Zoo. We love the animals. It’s wonderful that Athens can support these wonderful animals.

Brenda Wimpey from Athens , Georgia

Besides enjoying the beautiful setting, I’ve appreciated the education the staff and volunteer members have provided on visits to Bear Hollow. They’ve even helped me gain a greater understanding of the wildlife in my own yard! It is a benefit to the community to have such an oasis right in town and the improvements could increase visitation and donations.

Jennifer Hatch from Athens, Georgia

Although I don’t frequently visit the zoo, I am often at Memorial Park through my work with the Weed Warriors (We’re in our 10th year of removing invasive plant species from the park). I’m always aware of the many people (especially parents with their children) who visit the zoo. Not only does the zoo provide wonderful educational opportunities for children; it also serves as a refuge for injured animals. But, the zoo is a little bedraggled and in need of renovation. A newly renovated zoo could really become an important attraction, bringing visitors to Athens which would, in turn, contribute to our local economy. I strongly support the plan to improve the zoo and hope it will be added to the list of SPLOST funded projects.

Sue Wilde from Athens, Georgia

When my husband I first moved here for Law School, we would visit the park and Bear Hollow as a break from studying. When my children were growing up I brought them frequently to see up close the animals they were learning about in school. We attended all the events. Now as a grandparent, I continue to take my grandchildren. The improvements over the years have made this small zoo a real gem for families and visitors.

Valerie Aldridge from Athens, Georgia

I am a resident of Five Points and frequent Memorial Park and the Bear Hollow. I appreciate the care given the animals and love to watch the antics of the river otter, who I could watch for hours as well as the bobcat Katie. I viewed all three concepts that were put forth for Memorial Park and the zoo and feel that modernizing the zoo will allow it to continue to serve the citizens of ACC for the future.

Nancy Brim from Athens, Georgia

Bear Hollow is one of the best attractions in the city. I love taking my child at least a couple times a year to teach him about the animals who live there. I think an investment on a local treasure like this park will greatly help with educating our children about wildlife. Not to mention being a great place to relax and go for a walk in the presence of wildlife we wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to safely experience in our daily lives.

Darnell Arford from Athens, Georgia

This is a wonderful little jewel in Athens/Clarke. It is a place to wander around and look for the otter swimming mad laps or watch the bears amble, play or sleep. It is a place we can photograph the turkeys or hawks.

When we feel like a short walk, we go there. And when grandkids visit, we take them there.

It does need repairs and updating. The volunteers do a wonderful job with what they have, but it needs the support SPLOST can give.

Jan Dale from Athens, Georgia

I grew up across the street from Bear Hollow ( then Memorial Park). I remember the days when the poor bears lived in a large dog type pen with a bathtub! The concrete enclosure was a “step up”, but far from a habitat. Even in those days the animals were beloved by residents. The zoo has come so far, but needs to continue to evolve . The zoo is a unique feature of Athens and it would be a shame to see it not represent this great town in a positive way. Please use the SPLOST money to keep the zoo a wonderful family friendly environment. The animals who can’t survive in the wild deserve a habitat as close to the wild as possible while allowing their human neighbors to visit them safely.

Kathleen Foster from Athens, Georgia

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