Naubinway zoo celebrates 30 years as a haven for exotic animals and a tourist destination

When Gary and Lynn Moore decided to sell their home in the Thumb and move to the Upper Peninsula in 1993, they weren’t quite sure how they would make a living in their dream destination.

Initially, Gary Moore, who fell in love with the U.P. while attending Lake Superior State University, cut cedar in the woods and then worked for a builder. Lynn Moore worked as a teacher’s aide at Engadine Consolidated Schools.

With a small collection of animals in tow, however, the couple soon realized the opportunity before them. They created a zoo – its name a combination of their first names. This week GarLyn Zoo Wildlife Park on U.S. 2 near Naubinway celebrates 30 years as a wildlife haven and popular tourist destination.

Among the few zoos in the Upper Peninsula, GarLyn Zoo Wildlife Park draws some 30,000 to 40,000 visitors a year. 

What’s happening: GarLyn’s anniversary celebration will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (last admission is 5 p.m.) Saturday, June 15. The event includes food trucks, special booths and more. The celebration is the work of daughter, Mary Fuller, who has taken on much of the family business’s operations as her parents near retirement. “I just turned 70 here,” Gary Moore says. “I’ve slowed down a little bit.”

Besides animals on display, food trucks – Erben Street Grill, The Cake Lady and Elizabeth’s Elephant Ears – will join the fun. The Mackinac County Sheriff and Michigan Department of Natural Resources will staff booths. Visitors can also enjoy face painting, glitter tattoos and a bounce house. 

Visitors can purchase grain to feed deer, goats, alpaca and free-ranging birds, or apples to roll down a tube to feed bears. Carnivore feeding will take place at 3 p.m.

The back story: Gary Moore grew up north of Detroit; his wife, Lynn Moore moved around Michigan while she was growing up. As a couple, at their home in St. Clair, Lynn was raising and showing dogs and the couple accumulated a small menagerie of pets. But because both were enamored of the U.P., they moved north.

GarLyn Zoo Wildlife Park Gary and Lynn Moore, the couple behind the GarLyn Zoo Wildlife Park."We had sika deer, potbellied pigs, Pygmy goats, that kind of thing,” he says. “And so, we sold the home downstate, and we moved to the U.P. and then we didn't really know what we were going to do once we got here.” They considered opening a small motel with the animals out back for guests to enjoy, but that didn’t seem feasible.
When they found a desirable property, they began moving forward on their plans for a zoo. The first couple seasons were humbling. The couple lived in an unfinished garage they had built on the property for the first six years, while building enclosures, a barn and a garage as money permitted. They sold their pickup truck for money to pay bills, feed animals and get them through their second winter. As their third season began, word of the zoo spread, and business began picking up. 

These days family help includes Mary's daughter, Keely Fuller and granddaughter Laura Waldorf and her husband, Chris.

The zoo: The zoo sits on 30 wooded acres, surrounded by acres of state and federal forests. The animal habitat encompasses 10 to 12 acres of the parcel. The zoo has grown to include at least 100 animals. Native Michigan species such as foxes and cougars and black bears are among the menageries, as well as exotic big cats, grizzly bears, birds, reindeer and more. Some animals were purchased but many were rescued. 

GarLyn Zoo Wildlife Park Guests have especially enjoyed watching animals interact in ways not likely to be found in other zoos or interacting with the animals themselves. For example, one of Moore’s dogs, a Labrador retriever mix, enjoyed frolicking with the bears. Until the aging dog’s arthritis put an end to roughhousing it used to enjoy teasing the bear into a game of tag, chasing a stick. A duck once formed a bond with potbellied pigs, he recalls, sheltering piglets under her wings.

Only once has an animal escaped into the wild, he says, about 10 years ago when a baby alligator disappeared from the reptile’s double- fenced enclosure. Happily, he says, the animal was “only about 12 inches long.” It was never recovered. “I have a feeling the raccoon had a meal,” Moore says.

Animals are on display outdoors from spring to fall, and those animals that require warmer climates are housed indoors over winter when the zoo is closed. Visitors can feed many animals, and in the zoo’s bird enclosure, children are invited to feed the parakeets. Although the animals are the main attraction, the zoo also features a treasure hunt water sluice that lets visitors pan for fossils, gems and sharks’ teeth from a bag of “paydirt” sand they purchase.

If you go: The zoo is located on U.S. 2, about six miles east of Naubinway and 40 miles from the Mackinac Bridge. During spring and summer, from May 1 to August 31, the zoo is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. From Sept. 1 through Oct. 15, the zoo is open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily (with last admission at 4 p.m.). From Oct. 15 through Oct. 30, daily hours depend on the weather.

Admission for the 2024 season:  Adults, $15, children 3 - 13, $12.50, children 2 and under, free. Family rate, $55 for up to six people. Group rates for seven or more people, $9.50 per person. Annual passes and school rates are available.

Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years. She is a regular contributor to UPword, Rural Innovation Exchange and other Issue Media Group publications.
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