Thoughts on Chaffee Zoo Expansion and Roeding Park (with pictures)

I haven’t been a huge fan of the expansion of the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. Not because I hate zoos, but because the expansion required taking a huge portion of a public park and fencing it off. What used to be free public space now requires a ticket, and is only open during business hours (until 4pm for most of the year).

Unfortunately, Fresno has one of the worst park systems in the country, and the expansion reduced the size of the system further. It makes sense to expand the zoo in a contiguous fashion – you can’t
have half the zoo located three blocks away. Also, it’s cheaper to
replace grass and benches then it is to replace an elephant habitat. However, no mitigation was put in place. No effort was made to replace the park space anywhere else, including across the street, in a lot that has sat empty for decades.

That being said, I did visit the zoo a couple of months ago to see how the expansion fit into the park. I also looked around the park to see what other changes were made, especially the new dog park.

Let’s take a look.

This image shows the zoo expansion. The area in red was converted from public park space to private zoo space. 

I visited on a crowded day. Parking was extended into an “overflow” lot, which also happens to sit in the middle of the park. I believe the zoo should consolidate all parking into a garage across the street, leaving the park as a park.

The new expansion is the African Adventure.

The first set of pictures are the trail to the left. Then you return to the large brown area, which is the cafe and seating area, to go to the trail on the right.

One aspect of the expansion that I was very happy to see was the preservation of many, if not most of the mature trees.

The old trees make it seem like the expansion has been there forever (because the park has been).

 Most animals in the new area have giant habitats. Unfortunately, the cheetahs do not.

One of the problems with zoos, especially the Fresno Zoo, was the use of very small enclosures. The new expansion rectifies it. While the expansion added a dozen or more animals, they all share one massive habitat.

Sometimes that means you can’t find your favorite animal, but it is great for them. It reminds me of the San Diego Zoo.


When I visited, some temporary barriers had been put in place because all the animals weren’t comfortable sharing a large space yet. I am not sure if that barrier has been removed yet.

The preserved trees really add to the experience. Roeding Park has some of the largest trees in the city.

 The animals in the new expansion area.

Aside from a new habitat, the facility added some lovely spaces for people, including this cafe area overlooking the new enclosure. 

The view from the eating area.

Some “indoor” spaces.

An animal bridge.

This portion of the park has been enclosed as the zoo but has no animal habitats. I believe it is for future expansion. However, I think it was poor form to close this area off many years before they need to use it.

The green fence in the back is the line between the zoo and the park. There is no reason why they couldn’t have placed that fence where the wooden one is, leaving that area as free park land for the pubic.

This area has a dirt walking path. Exhibit on left, nothing on right.

More well preserved park area – just on the wrong side of the fence.

The nice grove and surrounding grass is useless to zoo visitors but would still be used by area residents if it hadn’t been sealed off.

 Still clearly Roeding Park.

This area is even worse. Inside the zoo boundary but fenced off from the zoo area.  So no one gets to go here.

The trail ends at a dead-end, so you walk back the way you came to the cafe lounge. (The jackets date these photos!)

That’s it for the new expansion. For reference, this is the bear exhibit in the older area, which highlights one of the major problems at the zoo: tiny, tiny habitats. While the new expansion fixes that, the old area remains the same.

Now we exit the zoo and take a look at what improvements have been made around the park as part of the project.

On old loop road now ends awkwardly at the zoo boundary.

The zoo expansion was built in an area that used to house a number of lovely lakes. To replace them, a new, larger lake was built. When I visited, it wasn’t quite done.

It was built where the dog parks used to be – my prime reason for visiting Roeding in the past.

I assume there is grass now, as it has been a couple of months since these photos were taken.

I hope they’re adding stuff in the middle.

Another awkward transition.

The old dog park bench is still there.

 For reference, the old lakes:

Moving on, the zoo boundary doesn’t interact with the park in the best way.  I don’t know why the dog park wasn’t placed here on the left.

 Now my mission was to find the relocated dog parks. Unfortunately, there was no signage.

No maps either.

 And there they are.

They can’t be serious.

So they literally picked up the dog park, and placed it in a grassy area, without trees. And didn’t bother to maybe spruce up the grass. Can you tell this is brand new?

 The budget for this relocation must have been in the hundreds of dollars.

I get being on a budget, but they really couldn’t even wash the ancient water fountains when they relocated them?

 Wow, look how much fun. This place will be a blast in the Fresno summer heat.

 For reference, the old dog park:

As was the case in the original area, there is a big dog and small dog area.

Sadly, both are smaller than they were before.

 Even though the surrounding area is empty, they still made the dog park smaller.

The bench made the big move.

The absolute worst part is the location. See the background? That’s Highway 99. 24/7 traffic, thousands of trucks. That means constant noise and enormous amounts of exhaust.

Look how close the highway is!

I’m extremely disappointed at this part of the project.

You commandeer a public park and can’t be bothered to at least improve what you displaced?

Was planting a few trees, adding some amenities, and picking a decent location too much trouble?

 These nearby trees are nice, but they’re in a roadway median.

Overall, the zoo expansion looks great. The habitat is nice, and they did a wonderful job at preserving the park setting. It really makes the zoo a prime attraction.

However, the project clearly didn’t give a damn about the neighborhood, taking over more park space than they needed, and replacing what they destroyed with something much worse. They did not appear to have replaced the horseshoe area, the new lake is boring, and the dog park is a disgrace.

It’s a shame the councilor who represents the neighborhood did not demand his constituents be respected.

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