ALLENWOOD - After 50 years, Clyde Peeling's Reptiland on Route 15 has become an educational adventure for reptile and amphibian lovers and the curious alike.
The zoo marks this exciting moment in its history with "Cheers to 50 Years," an event open to the public to mark the accomplishments and growth and celebrate its founder, Clyde Peeling.
The celebration will be from 7:30 to 11 p.m. July 11 at the zoo.
Laura Brennan, director of marketing at Reptiland, said tickets are available for anyone over the age of 21.
"It's a celebration for Clyde and what Reptiland has grown into," she said. "It's really time and sit back and share with others accomplishments we have had."
Guests will have the opportunity to experience special close-up animal encounters, alligator and Komodo dragon feedings, along with light refreshments and exhibitor tastings.
"We are having exhibitors that have agreed to be part of the event that will be here with own wine and beer for tastings. We have a special sampling glass for the event," Brennan said, adding that ticket holders can take home the glass to commemorate the event.
Live music will be set up in two parts of the zoo. Outside the Komodo building, Steve Mitchell, an awardwinning drummer from Lewisburg, will perform ethnic drumming.
The acoustic duo of Zac Bagget and Isiah Britton will entertain throughout the evening.
The entire zoo will be open to minglers; however, the butterfly exhibit will be closed because it will be dark and the insects will not be flying.
"We will have spotlights up on the dinosaurs and torches throughout," Brennan said.
Peelings's dream of building a zoo was born through an interest in reptiles when he was about 12, he said. He worked as a guide at a roadside zoo just down the road from the site of the current zoo.
"There was a place on (Route) 15 in Winfield called 'Reptiland.' It was a slapped-together place owned by a Texan that came north in the summer, operated this thing and went south in the winter," Peeling said.
As a boy, he worked there as a guide. But, he said, the owner never put many resources into the zoo. It often left Peeling thinking, "This could be done so much better."
When Peeling came out of the Air Force in 1964, the roadside zoo was out of business, because of the widening of Route 15.
Opportunity knocked for Peeling. He saw a way to make something, of which he once was a part, better in all respects.
"I bought this piece of property and I started with very little money and a lot of dreams," he said. "I had no idea what I was getting into. We survived in spite of myself, not because what we knew what we were doing because I didn't know what I was doing."
The potential Peeling saw in the site, combined with the dreams he had for a zoo, worked out well.
Fifty years later, the zoo has gone through some changes, some small and others large. He's added more features and space to the facility, create animated dinosaurs and, most recently, brought in Komodo dragons.
The zoo also participates in animal studies with colleges and universities, along with breeding programs for endangered or nearly-extinct reptiles and amphibians.
"I would be dishonest to say we are a major role player (in that), however we do participate. For example, there is a frog called golden frog. It is extinct from the wild. So, scientists gathered a population up before it was wiped out. We hold some of those animals and have a breeding project going on," Peeling said.
Peeling still looks back at the zoo's first days and sees how far it's come, not only with its physical appearance but the message.
"I see us mostly as an education facility," Peeling said. "I think the message has changed over the years. I think when we started we were pretty much a roadside zoo and people came (who) may have had a fear of snakes or just a curiosity."
As time moved on, animal programming on television and other zoos and museums paved the way for better educating the public about animals and conservation.
"A lot of customers come in now and maybe do not like snakes, but they do recognize that this is part of a thing called life. I think they have a different attitude and a different reason for attending than they did a number of years back," Peeling said.
He hopes to expand more in the future. Peeling said he would like to see a crocodilian facility built, a tortoise building with a large paddocks for them and even an aviary where people can feed birds.
"We may add some aquatic things, like sting rays, that people can touch," he said. "There is planning that can be done, it all takes time and resources."
Aside from its scientific achievements and ability to provide quality education to the public, Peeling said one of Reptiland's biggest achievements is becoming accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
"That is no small thing," he said. "We have to go through an intense inspection by our peers. They look at every aspect of operation (with) the same requirements for a large zoo."
A slideshow of photos from the beginning of Reptiland's history up until now will be displayed at the event.
"I haven't been part of the whole 50 years of growth, but especially in the last eight years - what we have evolved into and the changes - it's impressive, and what a perfect opportunity to show people this is what we came from and this what it looked like along the way and what we are proud to celebrate now," Brennan said.
"After 50 years we have survived. I like the valley; I like living here," Peeling said with a smile.
A special rate is available for zoo members.
"We really want our members to be with us that evening. They are sort of what helped us grow and have been with us along the way," she said.
For information on the Cheers to 50 Years event at Reptiland call 570-538-1869 or go online at reptiland.com.