Where Buffalo Roam, And Deer And Antelope Play Postmark: Plumpton Park Zoo

February 28, 1993|By WAYNE HARDIN

From Route 273 in northern Cecil County, only a small maroon sign distinguishes Plumpton Park Zoological Gardens from the surrounding farms.

Unless maybe you happen to see the two Watusi cattle, native to Africa, through a small break in a tree line. Not many local cattle have dunce cap horns with potential 10-foot spans.

The 20-acre zoo is part of 110 acres along Northeast Creek, three miles east of Rising Sun. The land is owned by the zoo's director, Edward C. Plumstead, who leases the land to the county for $10 a year but still lives there in a 101-year-old white frame house.

The non-profit zoo, called Plumpton Park for short, is home to more than 500 animals.

"That's if you count the birds and ducks and geese," Mr. Plumstead says.

The day is damp and gray. Mr. Plumstead, in a blue jacket, faded jeans and thick-soled brown shoes, walks between the bison pasture, where six buffalo pull hay from a rack, and the camel pen, where male and female of the species amble around.

He looks into a grove full of fallow deer. "I count 36 here in the pine woods. A few more are in another pen," he says. He walks on, passing llamas, ostrich, eland, cougar.

"I started [the zoo] with ducks, geese and swan," he says. "Then I got a pair of fallow deer." He began collecting animals as a hobby, but as their keep got more expensive, he decided to invite the public to visit and charge admission.

After getting a federal permit, Mr. Plumstead opened the zoo to the public in 1987, weekends only. Now open full time, it is administered by a commission. The county Office of Economic Development is contributing $17,100 toward operations this fiscal year.

The animals get there by being bought, traded, donated, or rescued and rehabilitated from injury.

In numbers, Plumpton Park is strong in hooved creatures -- buffalo, camels, zebras, Chincoteague ponies, deer, donkeys, antelope, giraffes and more. Many enclosures seem more like pastures or paddocks than pens. That openness -- and the wandering peacocks and handful of picnic tables -- gives the zoo the feeling of a working farm that just happens to feature animals from all over the world.

"It's almost like the animals are free," says Joan Krieg of nTC Cockeysville, visiting with her two sons and two adult friends. "Well, you know what I mean."

The zoo is on part of a 1701 land grant from William Penn. A restored gristmill on a 1734 foundation serves as admissions area. A keeper lives in the 1757 Jeremiah Brown House, which was built by a Quaker settler, and zoo waterfowl swim in millraces left from a 1785 sawmill. All three sites are on the National Register of Historic Places.

A maker of architectural models, Mr. Plumstead has a work area in the mill. He receives no salary as zoo director because the zoo is non-profit. (Admission -- $4 is the top price -- goes toward the animals' care.) Technically, he and deputy director Sam Conner are volunteers. For help, they depend on two full-time, paid employees, 15 year-round volunteers and several part-time volunteers.

Dr. Sarah Riley is one of the year-round volunteers. A veterinarian and zoo trustee, she trains keepers, volunteers and "community service" workers -- people convicted of minor crimes who are ordered to work off their sentences at the zoo.

"I sold my Harford County veterinary business and moved to Rising Sun after I found myself wanting to be here more than in my office," she says.

Martin Walsh, 27, a former dog trainer who tends to "heavy animals," cheerfully calls himself the full-time employee (the other is on medical leave).

"I'm responsible for the total care of the animals on my run: feeding, clean water, watching for abnormal behavior," he says.

In 1992, 41,000 people came to see the animals Mr. Martin cares for, including many busloads of schoolchildren. About two-thirds these young visitors came from outside the county, Mr. Plumstead says.

"In winter, there are days when no visitors show up," he says. But people drift into the zoo this winter day despite the finger-numbing chill.

The Rev. Steve Schappert of the Grace Bible Chapel in Rising Sun and his wife, Annie, use the lunch hour for a brisk walk along the stone-covered paths. Eddie and Sarah Goldberg and their daughter Emily, 4 months old, have come from Newark, Del. Ellie Scott and her teen-age daughter Laura, first-time visitors from Hagerstown, drop by on their way to Delaware.

"We're just taking our time," Ms. Scott says. "I really love the way it's so open."

It's not just the visitors who like the zoo. David McCreary, who lives just east, and Robert McColl, just west, speak well of it.

"We enjoy having it there," Mr. McCreary says. "My kids, Justin, 4, and Alison, 6, can just walk right over."

WHO'S WHO AT THE ZOO

* Nicky, a cougar, given to the zoo by state Natural Resources Police after a veterinarian reported a Charles County couple for illegally owning a cougar kitten.

* Marty, a black bear, donated by a Pennsylvania man who could no longer take care of him. (Pennsylvania has more lenient laws than Maryland on ownership of wild animals.)

* Minky, a silver fox, a pet that was donated.

* Budweiser, a Colobus monkey, given by Baltimore County Animal Control after it was found being kept in a bird cage.

* Domino, a Colobus monkey, given by the National Zoo after schoolchildren raised money to find Budweiser a mate.

* Jaws, an alligator, given by Maryland State Police after it wafound injured in a wrecked, stolen car on Interstate 95.

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