Lindsay Wildlife Experience Stretches Its Wings
By Lou Fancher
Business is booming at Lindsay Wildlife Experience, the wildlife museum and hospital operating in Walnut Creek’s Larkey Park since 1993. This means the nonprofit, whose mission is to connect people with wildlife and to rehabilitate injured or orphaned animals, is literally bursting at the seams of its 28,000-square-foot home.
A 25-year lease with the city, which owns and rents the facility to Lindsay for one dollar per year, expired in early 2018 but was temporarily abated by a five-year extension. Even so, as close to 100,000 visitors participate annually in the center’s exhibits, activities, and programs—and nearly 6,000 animals are examined or treated at its wildlife hospital—space is at a premium.
“A lot of our rehab takes place offsite. We don’t have the facilities to let an eagle fly. Volunteers do home care for orphaned opossums and baby squirrels. Frankly, the number of people who can do this is shrinking. People are downsizing and don’t have big backyards anymore,”explains Board President Dr. Rosanne Siino.
Regulations issued by California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife have also changed, restricting the conditions under which people can support the museum through home care. A museum membership upsurge and the popularity of its school programs have also increased the pressure for more space. “It’s gotten frustrating,” says Siino. “What we like to do, we can’t do anymore. This has led us to say we need a bigger rehab hospital where animals can fully heal before we release them. That can’t be in people’s backyards. We need to level up to provide.”
“Leveling up” has been a part of Lindsay’s history ever since its inception over sixty years ago in the garage of educator Alexander“Sandy” Lindsay.What started as a space full of locally collected specimens, and the occasional wild animal, developed into summer classes and neighborhood hikes. In 1955 the Diablo Junior Museum Association formed, including a governing board of directors. Outgrowing the elementary school in which it was housed and finding the City of Walnut Creek expanding its park system, in 1965 the museum moved into the water pump house in Larkey Park.
The city operated the Lindsay for the next 16 years, until the museum became an independent nonprofit in 1986. Two years later, a $7 million capital campaign resulted in construction of Lindsay’s current home. Exhibits and classes for all ages, birthday parties, teen activities, adult date nights, 70 animal ambassadors, guest lectures, and the rehab hospital round out current services.
“We’d love to stay in Walnut Creek because our history is here, but we’re constrained now,” says Siino. The museum is engaged in a search for a new executive director, after the 2018 departure of Cheryl McCormick. “We’ve done pretty much the same thing for 63 years. Now, given climate change, habitat loss, and our mission, we want someone who can deliver broadly.”
Siino says the search is not delaying Lindsay’s efforts to better utilize the Larkey Park space or relocate part or all its operations. “We want to be a gem, but we don’t want to be hidden,” she says. “It’s an expensive area with prices skyrocketing.” Siino says the East Bay MUD property adjacent to the park could be on the table, as well as offers from other municipalities. “Most people care how we will preserve and expand this great habitat shared by people and animals.”