The Upper Peninsula: Home of Michigan's one and only state fair

When most people concerned with the U.P.'s economy talk about seasonal businesses, it's not in the best of terms. But two business owners in the U.P. are among those whose livelihoods depend on seasonal attractions, and they say it's nothing to complain about.

Gary and Lynn Moore own the GarLyn Zoo near Naubinway, and have since 1994. If you've ever wondered about the origin of the name, you probably can guess it is a combination of the couples' first names. Originally from downstate St. Clair, the Moores got into the U.P. zookeeping business as a passion, as they had been interested in various types of animals before, Gary Moore says.

"You don't move to the U.P. to make your fortune; you move here for a lifestyle, because you like it up here," he says.

And private zookeeping can be a challenge in the U.P., since animal maintenance is a year-round need, while the zoo only can be open for visitors less than half the year. Mild winters, like the one just past, help, and allowed the GarLyn Zoo to open early this year. They've seen about 24,000 to 25,000 visitors this year, right on track with last year's attendance.

"Mostly we see downstate Michigan visitors, people who come to the area to vacation," Moore says. "There are U.P. visitors too, just not as many, and we have some out-of-state people."

Some of the Moores' animals have the winter advantage of being native to Michigan, like the black bear, cougar, porcupine and many others. But the makeup of the zoo is about 50 percent native, 50 percent exotic right now, Moore says.

"We build with what we have, and we try to keep them in as natural of a setting as we can," he says. The zoo sits on about 33 acres of land, with about 10 of those acres used as animal habitat.

The GarLyn Zoo has been gradually expanding and introducing new animals since it started, although Moore says the last few years' economic troubles have postponed some expansion plans.

"We got a lot of plans, but it depends on the economy. We have to be able to do more than just maintenance," he says.

In the western U.P., another private zoo is taking the leap to a big new attraction: a baby hippopotamus, soon to be in residence at the DeYoung Family Zoo in Wallace.

Bud DeYoung says he and his partner Carrie are turning the family enterprise, open since 1983, into a zoo that rivals any other in the region.

"We're a full-fledged zoo now. We have close to 100,000 visitors a year, and we have species of animals that only very major zoos have," he says.

DeYoung, like the Moores, got into zookeeping through a love for animals. He rehabilitated wild animals for the state Department of Natural Resources, among other things. Carrie came on board more recently, and has contributed educational programs, as well as acting as a zoo guide for visitors.

Their life among the animals, both native and exotic, interested National Geographic Wild channel producers enough to film an upcoming reality TV show at the zoo, to be called My Life's a Zoo with Bud and Carrie.

A pilot episode aired already, and Bud says they've seen an increase in business from the exposure.

"We never thought we'd actually have a reality show, although sometimes it's felt like we were on one," he says.

It's a big difference from the modest origins of the DeYoung Family Zoo, when the first few years consisted of maybe 100 visitors each weekend, he says. Now it's more like 1,000. DeYoung attributes the early growth to the support of local TV celebrity Buck LeVasseur, who filmed segments at the zoo for his programs.

But as the numbers of visitors have grown, so have the needs of the zoo, as it has added animals and exhibits over the years, to now have more than 400 animals.

Most of the zoo's visitors come, as expected, between Memorial and Labor Days in the summer, and the weather has a significant impact on the zoo attendance, so Bud and Carrie usually hope for sunny days.

"We have people every year from every state and every country," DeYoung says, although a lot of those people are from the Midwest, especially Detroit and Chicago day-trippers.

And while the economic downturn of recent years did hurt the zoo in an important way -- it cut donations to the zoo drastically -- it's been balanced somewhat by visitors keeping their vacations and sightseeing closer to home.

"We've benefited from people staying local. Rather than going to a big theme park or something, they'll come here," he says.

The DeYoungs plan on keeping it local in another sense, too: they hire all locals, and often family and friends, each summer.

"We're a U.P. family-run business," DeYoung says. "The people here are people I've known for a long time."

Kim Hoyum is a freelance writer based in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Her credits include contributor to Geek Girl on the Street as well as a regular writer for Marquette Monthly. Hoyum is a graduate of Northern Michigan University where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in writing.

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