Irving—The Fritz Park Petting Farm reopened on Thursday, July 8, as a revamped attraction featuring exotic and usual animals. On Saturday, the facility hosted its grand opening, which featured face painting, turtle races, a duck pond, a children’s activity tent, and other events.
Like many attractions, the facility was closed for most of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as late as this spring, the city had no aspirations for reopening it this summer. However, that all changed in late May.
Reopening week was the culmination of several weeks of furious preparations by the folks at Animal Connection and their staff, but it was clearly a labor of love for Lisa Whaley, managing partner of Animal Connection.
“We had a conversation this spring and here we are,” Whaley said. “We’re doing this for a four-week run, and [then] we’ll reassess and see how we want to move forward with everything.”
Among the animals featured are an albino Bennett’s wallaby, several alpacas, a llama, two ring-tailed lemurs, three African crested porcupines, an African mini zebu, miniature donkeys, and a mule jack deer named Buck.
At the grand opening, children were treated to rides on miniature horses and offered the opportunity to feed various animals including goats and pigs in a giant fenced area.
Every animal at the facility is well-guarded by two resident livestock guard dogs, Felix and Oscar, who are very friendly to visitors, often seeking pets and attention.
The Animal Connection Experience also offers refreshments, a gift shop, and play areas which include things like sandboxes.
Irving resident Zach Lawrence was at the grand opening with his two daughters.
“Every summer, I’ve been looking online to see when it was going to reopen,” Lawrence said. “There is so much more stuff. It’s wonderful.”
Whaley said the idea of the petting zoo reopening was first floated by the city in late May. Once the idea became reality, she and her staff had about three weeks to prepare the facility for visitors.
“We were packed when we opened on Thursday,” Whaley said. “But things are a little bit different now, because we are charging fees. We’d always been free in the past, but we’ve had minimal pushback.
“I think we bring a lot more to the table in terms of the animals, the gift shop, and the exotic animals we have. It’s not just the typical farm animals. We’ve got albino wallabies, the African grey parrot, and the Green-winged macaw. We have a lot of different activity areas with sandboxes, trucks, wheelbarrows, and things like that.”
Located near 15th street and East Vilbig Road in Irving, the Animal Connection Experience is scheduled to run through Aug. 1. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for Irving residents with proof of residency, and $3 for pony rides.
The facility is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday.