Fresno's Chaffee Zoo breaks ground for sea lion exhibit

FRESNO, Calif.

"It will be a beautiful large themed exhibit and will be just an amazing exhibit to the zoo," said Scott Barton, Chaffee Zoo's executive director. The Sea Lion Cove will be a state of the art aquarium where visitors will have the change to be nose to snout with sea lions as they watch from an underwater viewing area.

"You'll be able to see what they're like swimming around, as almost as though you were diving in one of the coastal areas of California and watching sea lions under water," said Barton.

The exhibit is being made possible with funds from Measure Z, a voter approved tax initiative passed in 2004. "Voters overwhelmingly passed Measure Z by incredible percentage. People clearly want to see the zoo as a major amenity in Fresno," said city mayor Ashley Swearengin.

The new sea lion exhibit will replace the current one that's more than 50 years old, providing a new home for the water creatures. But not everyone is happy about the plan.

"It's going to be gone and that's all sad, just so they can expand for more money," said Tony Rock, an opponent of the zoo's expansion plan. The exhibit is the first project of what will kickoff the zoo's expansion, more than doubling its size onto Rowding Park. A concern for Rock who's been coming to the city park daily with his dogs - an area he fears will be in jeopardy with the zoo's expansion.

"That's all good for the zoo and they should be spending that but I don't think they should take this 100 year old park away from the people," Rock said. But it's an issue zoo officials say people should not worry about.

"Everything that's in the park will continue to be in the park in the future. It's just that we'll have a really beautiful zoo for the community," said Barton.

A growing zoo that won't be completed until 2014. The Sea Lion Cove is scheduled to open in the fall of next year.

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