When cars enter the Cape May County Park and Zoo, the person working at the entrance always has a donation can, into which visitors can drop cash donations.
At least one Herald reader wondered how much money is taken in at the park entrances and what happens to it. Cape May County provided the Herald with figures that answer those questions.
Money raised at the zoo goes back into the facility, according to Ron Simone, assistant county administrator. The park and zoo keep track of the number of vehicles that enter the gates and the amount of money donated.
From January 1996 through August 2023, the zoo counted 3,486,992 vehicles entering. This does not include 2001 and 2003, years when there was no data available. The booth was also closed in January 2008 and January 2012. Even during the Covid months, March 2020 through April 2021, there was an average of nearly 12,000 vehicles per month entering the zoo – fewer in the winter months and more in the season.
There have been more than 100,000 vehicles visiting the zoo each year since 2008, an average of 135,665 per year. In 2021, the zoo saw its highest number of entering vehicles: 204,381.
While there is now an automatic system for counting vehicles that enter, the person at the booth is recording the number of people in the vehicles. For example, 2020 entrance totals show that 152,810 cars were counted carrying 457,482 people.
In 2018, $231,574 was donated at the zoo gate, which is the actual entrance to the zoo exhibit area. In 2019, that amount rose to $268,531. The county did not have numbers for 2020 through 2022, but total revenue from two dozen sources in those years was $1.14 million (2020), $1.79 million (2021), and $1.70 million (2022).
The park and zoo received more donations at its information booth, which is the hut located at the entrance to the park off Route 9, than it did at the zoo gate. In 2018, the information booth collected over $625,000 in donations, followed by more than $696,000 in 2019, or over two-and-a-half times the gate number in each of those two years.
Simone, who provided the figures to the Herald, said historically the park and zoo has always had much higher donations at the information booth.
“Every person entering the park must stop and speak to the attendant, and it is more compelling to reach for a donation as opposed to just walking right past the zoo gate attendant and not donating,” he said.
After the information booth and gate donations, the largest revenue sources were zoo tours ($90,825), followed by bus receipts ($43,520) and zoo camp ($38,575).
The zoo’s total revenue from the two dozen revenue sources in 2022 was $1,697,156, while expenses were $1,441,109, a difference of $256,047. The largest single expense was for animal food, which in 2022 was $281,680.
In 2022, total revenues from the park alone were $763,415, a number that showed consistent growth since 2018, except for Covid year 2020. In 2018, total revenues were $477,956. Expenses for 2022 were $2,411,169, leaving a balance of $1,647,754 to be paid out of tax dollars.
County park revenue from concessions and rent in 2022 was nearly $700,000, up almost $70,000 from 2021. These figures represent a large increase in revenue from 2019, the pre-Covid year, when park concessions and rent amounted to just under $439,000. Revenues took a dramatic plunge in 2020 due to Covid restrictions but in 2022 recovered to the highest levels in the last five years.
The bottom line is that the Cape May County Zoo Trust Fund, which includes the two dozen revenue sources, had $1,697,156 in total revenue in 2022 and $1,441,109 in expenses, with an overall reserve of $998,173 that was carried into 2023.
Contact the author, Christopher South, at email@example.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.