Nonprofits  February 8, 2024

Denver Zoo plans 570-acre preserve in Weld County

WELD COUNTY — The Denver Zoo will expand its operations onto the Lembke Family Preserve, a donated 570-acre tract east of Greeley in Weld County, the zoo announced Thursday.

Conversations between the family and the zoo began about 18 months ago, said Bob Lembke, president of United Water and Sanitation District and a Weld County ranch owner.

“I’ve always been a big fan of the zoo and came to the conclusion that this made sense,” Lembke told BizWest. “I signed the documents for the donation last December.”

The gift was made, he said, because “Denver Zoo has been part of our family tradition since the late 1950s. Both Carol and I loved visiting the old zoo of our childhood, and we took our kids there many times. It’s always a special family outing. With the stewardship provided to endangered species by the zoo through the preserve, we hope that the zoo can be part of our family for generations.”

The preserve will not be open to the public, and both the zoo and Lembke were reluctant to disclose the exact location of the “square mile of land” to protect endangered species that will be kept there.

“It’s a remote holding miles from the nearest public road,” Lembke said. “You’d have to drive through a lot of public land to get there.”

According to a news release issued by the zoo, the Lembke Family Preserve will be developed in two phases.

In phase one, the facility will expand the zoo’s breeding efforts to help threatened species survive and provide more space for its growing animal families than it has in its 84 acres in Denver’s City Park. Besides being able to add new species to its program, the zoo also will gain greater animal shifting and holding capacity. It will have space to temporarily relocate some animals while it does maintenance or renovations in City Park.

In the second phase, the zoo plans to transform the facility into a conservation center focused on conservation breeding and wild reintroduction of species that are threatened or endangered in Colorado and beyond.

Lembke said he understands that the land will largely include African ruminants, not members of the feline family. The Wild Animal Sanctuary near Hudson houses some of those big cats.

“It’s their enterprise,” Lembke said, “but we’ll work with them closely on planning, as well as on maintaining some of their water infrastructure and things like fencing. We already donate hay to them on a regular basis and will continue to do so.”

Jake Kubié, director of integrated communications for the Denver Zoological Foundation, told BizWest he expected facilities on the preserve to be operational by the fourth quarter of this year.

“The Lembke Family Preserve represents the dawn of a new era for Denver Zoo and will dramatically expand our capabilities for our animals and Colorado wildlife as we build it out in the coming years,” Bert Vescolani, the zoo’s president and CEO, said in a prepared statement. “We are deeply grateful to the Lembke family for its generosity and mutual understanding that saving wildlife for future generations requires a dedicated community of donors, members, partners and neighbors.”

The zoo, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, houses almost 3,000 animals representing more than 450 species on its Denver campus and serves nearly two million visitors a year. It dedicates almost $2 million annually to zoo-led programs aimed at protecting animals within their natural habitats around the world.The Lembke family is one of many donors who help secure the zoo’s future through its $75 million Into the Great Wild Open campaign.

Dallas Heltzell
With BizWest since 2012 and in Colorado since 1979, Dallas worked at the Longmont Times-Call, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Public News Service. A Missouri native and Mizzou School of Journalism grad, Dallas started as a sports writer and outdoor columnist at the St. Charles (Mo.) Banner-News, then went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before fleeing the heat and humidity for the Rockies. He especially loves covering our mountain communities.
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