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Cadillac News




“Zoos are nice, but an animal habitat like Johnny’s gives children—and adults—a chance to experience wildlife.”

It is, one exhilarated adult said, the missing like—that very delicate, but oft missing connection, between man and nature.

Johnny’s Wild Game and Fish Park, located five miles southwest of Cadillac, is unique in that it is a wildlife, fish and fowl sanctuary in which people mingle with the animals.

The popular northern Michigan tourist attraction recently open its’ doors for its’ 16th season.

“We camp in this area every year,” said Larry Fitzsimons, of Toledo, Ohio.  “Oh, sometimes we go up as far as the Straits, but where ever we camp we always make it a point to stop in here at Johnny’s.

“Our children love the place, it gives them a chance to pet and feed the various animals.  Zoos are nice, but an animal habitat like Johnny’s gives children—and adults—a chance to experience wildlife.  There is a big difference between looking at an animal in a cage and standing next to it.”

Open since 1965, Johnny’s is home to dozens of wild, but somewhat tame, animals.  White  tail deer, white fallow, llama, Sika (Japanese) deer, African and Canadian geese, rabbits, opossum, ponies, pheasants, wild turkey, wild mallard ducks, exotic foreign chicks, quail, red fox, guinea hens, pigs, bantam chickens, goats, guinea pigs, coons, peacocks, calves, lamb, and even kittens.

Also located on the property is a trout pond.

The park is owned by Mrs. Ruth Johnson.  Her grandson, Brian Johnson, 20, manages the wildlife portion of the park while Mrs. Johnson manages an adjoining antique shop and keeps the business’s books.

“Taking care of the animals is a full-time job,” the younger Johnson said.  “I guess I’m pretty lucky, I am doing something I really enjoy.  I like working with animals.”

Although carrying water and feed to the animals takes up a good portion of his work day, there are times when Johnson must respond to emergency situations.

Such was the case recently when a (white) fallow got a pail stuck over his head while eating.

“The animal was scared, he couldn’t see where he was going,” said Johnson.  “And being a hypertensive animal anyway there wasn’t too many ways he was going to be caught.  So, I downed the animal with a tranquilizer gun, removed the pail, and after a few moments, it was back on its’ feet like nothing had happened.  Had I not used the tranquilizer and just tried chasing it, I might have chased it right into an obstacle, which possibly could have injured it.”

Johnson, who has worked at the game farm since he was 10-years-old, receives help from his brothers.

“They do a lot of work,” he said, “there is just no way one person could do all that has to be done.”

The trout pond is stocked four or five times a year.  Earlier 500 trout were dropped into the pond, and, next week, another 500 will be added.

Mrs. Johnson, who has been instrumental in the park’s growth, said “the park will remain open until it starts losing money.”

“the park, by itself, doesn’t earn enough to warrant its’ existence,” she said, “the antique shop sort of subsidizes it.  Naturally, from a business point of view, when we start losing money we’ll have to close our store.”

But losing money is not in the Johnson’s crystal ball.  And, in retrospect, in an age of run-a-way inflation, Johnny’s Wild Game and fish Park has not implemented price increases in three years.

“We do not want to lose money, but we do not want to make it a financial burden for people to come here, either,” she said.  “Even charging just 25 cents more a ticket can make a big difference when parents have three or four children.  Economically, parks like this don’t pay for themselves.  But still, I believe it’s a park the community needs.  People, all people, enjoy it.”

Proof of that is in the signatures in the guest book Mrs. Johnson keeps.  Last year people from 31 different states and 11 foreign countries visited the park.