JUST FIVE MINUTES WEST OF CADILLAC, MICHIGAN
OPEN DAILY 10:00 A.M. - 6:00 P.M. MEMORIAL DAY THROUGH LABOR DAY
Cadillac Evening News
August 3, 1973
A WALK WITH THE ANIMALS
Johnny’s Wild Game and Fish Park isn’t a zoo, park or preserve. It’s a philosophy.
“I’m trying to do something different,” owner and manager Mrs. Ruth Johnson says. “We want children to feed, touch and learn to know the animals.”
That was the plan when the park was initiated by her husband, Herb, about seven years ago. Herb died two and one half years ago, but Mrs. Johnson, a former teacher, has never considered selling the property.
“As long as I feel good, it certainly beats selling underwear,” she laughed. “I don’t want to go back to teaching. This is really satisfying work. And people tell you when they enjoy the park.”
The eight-acre park, located on E 46 ½ Road (Tobacco Road) southwest of Cadillac, features deer, raccoons, pheasants, peacocks, chickens, lambs, rabbits, a baby porcupine, African geese, Canadian geese, a red fox, African pygmy goat, pigs, calf, ducks, swans and other animals as well as approximately 1,000 rainbow trout which can be caught and kept at 10 cents an inch.
Many of the animals are familiar to farm natives, but in a day of more specialized farming and population concentration in metropolitan centers, they have become strangers to many persons.
“You’d be surprised how many adults take pictures of the pigs,” Mrs. Johnson smiled.
The freedom to mingle with many of the animals and hand feed them is apparently the key to Johnny’s success. The park is one of only two or three in the state where animals wander among visitors, nuzzling them and winning food.
“That’s what we feature,” Mrs. Johnson said. “It’s experience you can’t get in a textbook or through a fence.”
This summer, even with northern Michigan tourism dropping as much as 20 to 30 per cent in some areas, the park’s business is better than last year. Some days, it hosts from 400 to 500 persons.
“Every month it’s a little better,” Mrs. Johnson said. “It goes up a little more every year.”
Although the park draws the majority of its visitors from the Greater Cadillac Area, in 1972 it attracted persons from 37 states and 11 foreign countries. So far this season, tourists have come from 32 states and 3 foreign countries.
“But, a lot of people including school tours come from our trading area,” she added, naming towns as far away as Big rapids, Muskegon, Manistee, Traverse City, Houghton Lake and Clare as well as Cadillac, Evart, Reed City, Manton, Mesick, Buckley, Lake City, McBain and Marion.
The park requires both state and federal permits. Facilities must be built to specifications, and it undergoes regular inspections.
“You do it like they want it,” Mrs. Johnson shrugged. “Why shouldn’t you get along with the DNR (Department of natural Resources)?”
The park season begins on the second weekend in May. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Labor Day, then opens only on weekends through September.
The season is long on work, but short compared to other businesses. It keeps the margin of profit down.
“My season is so short and my animals are so long on eating,” Mrs. Johnson smiled. But, like other tourist oriented businesses, she advocates advertising. “I’m convinced advertising does help,” she nodded.
Four Cadillac area residents work the Mrs. Johnson during the season. Mrs. James Pullen works two days a week. High school students Doug Gregg and Ruth Ann Weir and junior high student Brian Johnson are summer regulars.