In November of 2004 Newschannel 7 first reported the Holmes County Development Council was working with wildlife expert Jim Fowler on the plans build a theme park in that area. Those plans are finally taking shape.
After years of planning, negotiating and speculating, it's official. The man known for his love of wildlife, Jim Fowler, is bringing the wild side to Holmes County.
Bill Hardy of the Fowler Center for Wildlife Education says, "This is the first one that will be his legacy of several parks like this that will be built throughout the nation."
With hundreds witnessing, representatives from the Fowler Foundation signed the contract Wednesday afternoon to buy 790 acres of land south of I-10 in the area known as Smith Lake.
It will become part of a 1,300 acre theme park, the Fowler Center for Wildlife Education. The Holmes County Development Commission is selling the land.
The park will feature variety of animals, both native and exotic. None of the animals will come from the wild, but the park will be designed to make them think they're in their natural environment.
"There will not be any cages. They'll all be free roaming as possible. We'll actually take the visitors into the habitats and see the animal in its natural habitat in as natural experience that can possibly be done."
Holmes County leaders are excited about the possible$200 to $500 million the park is expected to generate over the next 10 years.
Frederick Howell, Mayor of Bonifay, said, "We were supposed to grow. We waited until now and I feel now were starting. I hope we can keep control on it so we don't lose control of the way the area develops, even if we get larger lets keep a small town atmosphere."
The Fowler Foundation has acted as animal theme park consultants in the past, but this is the first time the organization has built a park from the ground up.