Oregon safari park, known for cheetahs, gets new director

ERIK SKOOG, eskoog@newsreview.info
January 11, 2007

WINSTON — Wildlife Safari had cast a nationwide net with Umpqua Training & Employment to find a new executive director, but it didn’t have to look far to find Dan Van Slyke.

The drive-through wild animal park hired the former Douglas County commissioner to be its new executive director a month after he learned of the opening from Norm Gershon, president of UT&E, and began the interview process.

Van Slyke, who lost his re-election bid in the May Republican primary, replaces former Executive Director Mike Wodrich, who left in September after having been hired in October 2005. Bob Vangstad of Winchester, a former manager at Rite Aid and a county Fair Board member, has recently been serving as interim director.

Although he officially begins Tuesday to coincide with the safari’s payroll schedule, Van Slyke said he unofficially began Wednesday to get his feet wet.

Michele Young, spokeswoman for Wildlife Safari, confirmed that Van Slyke had been hired from a pool of about 25 applicants.

Van Slyke said he is interested in continuing his involvement in economic development, and described Wildlife Safari as “a major horsepower machine” that serves as “a major catalyst and tourist draw in the county.”

The 600-acre park, established in 1973 by Frank Hart, features more than 500 animals from Africa, Asia and North America. It’s become well-known for its successful cheetah breeding program.The only drive-through safari park in the Pacific Northwest, Wildlife Safari has approximately 150,000 visitors each year, said Board of Directors member Jim McClellan.

“When I heard they were looking for a director, it really struck a chord with me because this is the reason I ran for county commissioner,” Van Slyke said.

Among his self-described qualifications are the retail and ranching experience he has. But, he said, he would not be fully qualified for the position had it not been for the four years he spent as a county commissioner.

“A lot of it is the same dynamic,” he said.

“I think it’ll go great,” Young said. “He does own a ranch and he does have a passion for the animals, and having a passion for the animals in the zoo world is a major factor.”

Van Slyke said he believes he can manage the safari like a public business.

“What people really want when they go out and invest their money for an entrance fee is a real pleasurable experience,” Van Slyke said.

• You can reach reporter Erik Skoog at 957-4202 or by e-mail at eskoog@newsreview.info.

http://www.oregonnews.com/article/20070111/NEWS/70111018/-1/news

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