JAY — Missouri deer farmer Kevin Grace is turning what was once Wells Hunting Preserve into a family attraction. This weekend's grand opening at 4439 Wells Pond Road features a petting zoo with deer and other animals while plans include a water park taking advantage of the onsite pond.
For the two years in which Grace has owned the ranch, he's used it as a breeding ground, but decided rather than to open it for hunting, its previous purpose, he would create a tourist destination. He said he has to move around 250 to 400 deer from the roughly 2,500 head of axis and fallow deer on the ranch per year to prevent overpopulation, and doing so by hunting wouldn't be practical. So he sells them as breeding stock. In place of hunting, visitors can come feed the deer from a wagon ride.
Grace said this is his first venture into creating a family attraction.
"I have traditionally been involved in promotions and convention-style events," he said. Information on his Whitetail Sales deer farm is available at www.whitetailsales.com. He said he has the European fallow deer and Indian axis deer at the ranch because the grass on the ranch is best for their grazing nature, while the American native whitetail deer are browsers and would starve without suitable trees and other sources of their diet.
Grace's friend, Rowdy Malchow, of Windsong Adventures, will provide the animals for the petting zoo. Malchow said opening weekend will feature around 30 animals. Children will be able to ride ponies and dromedary camels, and feed sheep and pygmy goats. He said he'll also bring his mini pinto horse, Misty.
Wendy Moreland is also part of the Santa Rosa Ranch team. She moved to Jay from Mount Vernon, Texas and will live in a cabin on the ranch as the manager of the theme park and activities. Moreland said visitors will be able to enjoy:
• Roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over fire pits
• Firing apple cannons, which she said are like potato launchers
• Riding ziplines for kids: one 35 feet long and three to four feet high, and the other 75 feet long and six to seven feet high
• Climbing a tire jungle
• Swinging on tire swings or the web swing; two to three children can ride, or one person up to 250 pounds
• Playing on a wooden pirate ship
• Playing on a jungle gym with slides, swings and monkey bars
• Visiting the three large treehouses
Grace said they're looking into water toys, like paddle boats, for the roughly five-acre pond at the ranch and plans on bringing fishing back to the ranch.
The cost of admission is $10 per person, and free for children under 2 years old. Grace said anyone who brings a clipping of the ad in this paper will get one free admission.