For the past 18 months, the owners of the Fort Rickey Discovery Zoo, 5135 Rome-New London Road, have been doing everything they can to weather the pandemic; now, they are trying to stay afloat after flooding from Hurricane Henri displaced animals, destroyed property and left vast stretches of the popular local attraction under feet of water.
“We got three days of rain, and on that last day, we got that flash flood,” said owner Rebecca Stedman. “The water came in fast, and within half an hour, everything was totally covered. People who came to help us were saying they’ve never seen this their entire life.”
The Stedmans acquired Fort Rickey two years ago. “It’s been one challenge after another,” she said. “It’s been rough. We went into this with the mindset that it would be a fixer-upper, and we needed to do a lot, but we were up for it. So right now, we’re just trying to focus on our blessings.”
“We had massive flooding that caused our yak and deer herds to be underwater,” Stedman said. “We had to scramble and partially swim through the water to show them where to go to get to dry land.”
Staff at Fort Rickey were able to get every animal out of the water and to dry land, but with floodwater comes the risk of illness in the form of bacteria, protozoa, and parasites.
Medication was acquired to treat the animals, but there was one casualty due to the flood. “We cried for days over the emu that we lost,” Stedman said. “He was a rare, white emu that was very friendly and only three years old. And we hoped he would be the father to more white emus, but a parasite hit him hard and fast. And we couldn’t save him.”
In addition to the loss of the emu, water ruined the hard work and related funding the owners and staff put into the grounds across the property. The animal building saw two feet of water come in, ruining refrigerators, freezers, supplies, and some of the animal feed. A brand new birthday party room, complete with new walls, was submerged. The motor for the newly acquired pillow bounce was destroyed. The concessions stand was submerged.
“Altogether, just major property damage and a lot of setbacks,” Stedman said, adding that one bright spot amid the destruction was that they had recently invested in a $3,000 slushie machine at the concession and could save that.
Stedman said that while they are looking into whether any of their losses could be covered by insurance, it does not appear likely. “I don’t think we have flood insurance. I don’t think that was something that was even offered to us,” she said. “We had a hard time finding insurance at all this year, and we almost didn’t have any at all since our previous insurer dropped us. We were lucky to get any at all, so I really don’t think anything is going to be covered.”
But all in all, Stedman said she feels blessed. Stedman said friends and families had donated refrigerators and freezers to get food transferred without losing what they had stored in them. “Right now, we’re working on fixing the erosion that happened alongside the edge of the property where the beavers are,” she said. “And a tree came down on the fence and left a massive hole, so there’s not much roadway. But we’ve brought in rocks and boulders to build up the wall.”
While much of the water has receded, Stedman is still waiting for more to recede so they can make more repairs as well as begin the task of reopening. “We’ve had to be closed for almost a full week,” she said. “The costs are all adding up. “The medication [alone] is costing us $150 a day,”
Stedman said are immensely thankful for the donations they have received — including a donation from the Tractor Supply Company in Rome of two pallets of wood shavings so all the animals can have clean and dry bedding. Additional help is welcome so that they can continue to provide for the animals as well as fund repairs, particularly with the currently high cost of lumber. .
For information about Fort Rickey Discovery Zoo or how to donate, visit https://fortrickey.com.