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Traverse City Record Eagle
Sunday July 10, 1994
Northern Living

JOHNNY’S PARK NEAR CADILLAC PROVIDES HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE

 

You know you’re onto something good the second you spot the humble, hand-lettered sign at the intersection of two soggy dirt roads.

Johnny’s Park.

The road doesn’t look promising, but curiosity eclipses concern over your car’s worn shocks. Who’s Johnny?

You find the park, but not the man.

Herbert “Johnny” Johnson died years ago, not too long after establishing this petting zoo of exotic and not-so-exotic animals officially known as Johnny’s Wild Game and fish Park.

But his widow, Ruth, is still here and so are the animals.

“Somehow I was able to keep the thing going and I think it’s better than ever,” says Ruth, now nearly 83.

She relies on her grandson, Brian, and a clean-cut crew of 13 high school and college students to keep the park in order.

Deer and goats and geese stroll by Ruth’s window as she talks about the park’s beginnings 20-some years ago.  One expects Dr. Doolittle himself to amble past next.

A chorus of rooster crows, squawks and honks is pierced by the eerie cry of the Indian Blue Peacock.

The llamas (Primero and Cocoosh), the bison (Buffalo Bill, Calamity Jane and unnamed baby), the pigs and pony and donkey and calf are all penned.  But the 20 deer wander from visitor to visitor, like overgrown dogs, looking for handouts of corn.

A woman from Inkster is fishing for Rainbow Trout when a white fallow deer steps into the pond and bites her line in half.  To her great consternation, the deer begins to eat the line, like a child slurping a long piece of pasta.

“C’mere deer, c’mere deer,” she calls, slapping her knees.  “Honey, quick, get some corn.”

The deer, perhaps hearing the magic word, drops the fishing line and wanders back to shore to take the bribe. 

Playing center stage at the park are the goats.  Ruth and her husband built a fanciful Swiss Family Robinson kind of goat walk that spans one of the trout ponds.  For the promise of corn the goats walk across the narrow bridge.  Visitors put corn in a tin pan attached to a pulley.  If the people don’t send the corn up, the goats will pull it up themselves.