Alaska Zoo purchase of nearby ranch has some horse owners worried about where they’ll go

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – The Alaska Zoo has been ready to expand for a long time, according to Zoo Director Pat Lampi. So when the opportunity arose to purchase the Diamond H Ranch property right next door and add an additional 8 acres, Lampi said they could hardly say no.

“With the zoo only being 23 acres to start with, and then adding 8 acres, that’s a huge increase,” Lampi said. “You always want to build bigger and better habitats and you don’t want to destroy forests, so having more adjacent property is just like something we’d always hoped for.”

Dimond H Ranch is owned by Linda McQueary, whose mother, Sammye Seawell, started the Alaska Zoo in 1969. McQueary wrote on her website that after more than 60 years of association with the business, she is ready to retire. Lampi said giving the zoo first refusal rights if McQueary chose to sell the property was a deal struck long ago.

“I think she saw it as, you know, kind of following in her mom’s wishes that the horse ranch become part of the zoo eventually,” he said.

The zoo is set to close on the property on June 15, but its gain looks to be a loss for some in the Anchorage horse community. The owners of roughly 40 horses boarding at the facility have been told they have until the end of May to leave. Many say there’s not enough space in town to place their horses, and there’s not enough time.

“The short notice that we’ve been given is, I mean,” horse owner Raena Schrear said.

“In the winter,” interjected Serena Kraft, another horse owner from the area.

“We can’t start putting fence posts in right now,” Schraer continued. “And we won’t be able to get that done before the time we’re supposed to be out of there either.”

Schrear and Kraft both board horses at Diamond H Ranch. Kraft said she rides there as a teen and her daughter rides there now. They said there’s no other facility like Diamond H Ranch in Anchorage, which for decades has been the place where children learn to ride and athletes can train year-round in its indoor arena.

Ideally, they would like to look for property to build a new facility, but the pair said that will take time. They’ve asked the zoo if it would allow horse owners to keep their animals on the property through the summer.

Lampi said the zoo isn’t interested in being in the horse boarding business, adding that there were concerns about security and other issues. Still, he said, they are willing to listen to see if they can figure something out.

“We understand there are concerns and so we said, yeah, I would be more than happy to have some board members and some staff meet with people and talk about their concerns or their ideas and we’ll see where that progresses,” he said .

Horse owners say they’re crossing their fingers they can reach some sort of compromise.

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