ALTO, Mich. (WZZM) -- Animal lovers in the West Michigan area have a new place to go to see hundreds of wild animals, some of which people in the region have never seen before.
Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park held its grand opening in May and kicked off the first full season of being open to the public.
The 80-acre park offers one of the most eclectic collections of animals in the Midwest including endangered species. The park gets additions on a regular basis and two of the latest include "Big Boy" and "Stephanie," the two largest alligators north of the Florida Border.
"I can show you animals out there that you can't see anywhere else in the United States," said Rick DeRidder, who goes by the moniker Rick the Reptile Guy. "We have some black wildebeest out there. All these animals you see are from other places. Nothing is from Michigan. We chose to do that. And all these animals too are born in captivity. Which I think is better too. We can't go to Africa and grab them from the wild. Really the only thing we don't have are big cats, elephants, and we are trying to get giraffes this year and I can't wait for that"
The park currently has roughly 200 animals which include various types of reptiles, zebras, a variety of African hoof-stock, African Crested Porcupine, a Llama and so much more.
"We get a lot of people in here yet who have never heard of this place before so we are trying to get the word out as best we can," said Dawn Hoekstra who owns and privately funds the park with her husband Dave.
"He did it before as a hobby and kind of started with small animals," she said. We started out more with the deer and elk and my husband wanted to do something different so we went into African and smaller animals."
She says the park, and its hands on approach, which includes a petting zoo, appeals to people of all ages.
"Everybody wants to just touch every thing but obviously some things you just cant. I think it is just being able to get close and see things you haven't seen before. It is kind of exciting you know."
The park is located at 8313 Pratt Lake in Alto. It's about 25 miles outside of downtown Grand Rapids. Boulder Ridge is open May through October, Monday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm and Sunday, noon to 5pm. Admission is $8 per person, ages 3 and up. Seasonal family memberships are available for $75.
More information can be found on the park's website