Supporters Remain Determined to Keep Aviary Open

Anna Zheng

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Photo by Hayley Turner

With the possibility of the Pioneer Park Aviary closing in the coming year due to lack of funds, its longtime volunteers and supporters remain adamant that it should stay in operation.

Since the 1940s, animals have been a part of Pioneer Park. By 1982, the Walla Walla Valley Lioness Club had fundraised $90,000 to build pheasant pens and waterfowl enclosures, while a $10,000 fund was donated to help maintain the park. The  park has kept its bird enclosures open to the public ever since, but in recent years the aviary has repeatedly been threatened by the city’s budget concerns. On Feb. 22, the Walla Walla City Council finally voted to close the aviary for good, but its defenders aren’t yet ready to give up the fight.

Aviary supporter Craig Keister has been campaigning to preserve the aviary since December 2010 as part of the citizens’ fundraising group, Friends of the Pioneer Park Aviary. According to Keister and his fellow aviary advocates, the aviary is a unique asset to Walla Walla, since it is an unusual bird-keeping facility that is open to the public and free for the community. There are only five parks like it in the United States.

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Photo by Hayley Turner

“I will fight for it,” said Keister. “It’s an amenity that needs to be here. It’s a good teaching opportunity about the stewardship of animals and being kind to animals.”

Part-time caretaker Joanna Lanning has been working at the aviary for over 19 years. Like Keister, she also believes the aviary offers educational opportunities for people. She goes to classrooms and nursing homes to advocate the preservation of the park.

“We do as much education as we can,” said Lanning. “I give a lot of tours. We were hoping to increase the education of the facility over time.”

Lanning works five days a week at the aviary. Her responsibilities and job have changed over the years, but she said she is still passionate about caring for the birds.

“I have a lot of emotional attachments to the birds here,” said Lanning. “We try to take the very best care [of the birds.] I think we have succeeded from what people tell me.”

Keister’s determination to keep the aviary going is rooted in the stories he has heard throughout his years of involvement. Since 2010, when he joined together with former city council member Shane Laib to lead a fundraising drive for the aviary, he has heard many stories from community members about how the aviary affected their lives.

“It’s a community jewel that we cannot afford to lose, [especially after] hearing all these stories,” said Keister.

Sophomore Katie Gillespie started volunteering at the aviary near the end of September, after noticing that her morning visits to the birds would positively affect her mood. She believes closing the aviary would be a disappointment.

“I just like being there so much, [and] I really hope it doesn’t close,” said Gillespie. “Sometimes I’ll be working in the mornings, and I’ll be feeding the birds, [and] a family would come by with their kids. The kids just seemed so excited about the birds.”

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Photo by Hayley Turner

According to its advocates, the aviary offers families from the community a way to entertain and educate children about the birds. Keister remains determined to keep the aviary on its feet, promoting it as an economic benefit to Walla Walla.

“There are a lot of small towns in America where [the towns] don’t have amenities, and there’s not much to do for young people and old people,” said Keister. “These towns disappear. Young people have no great memories. If the young people go away, the old people will [also] leave. Towns die; they lose their future in one end and lose their past in the other end.”