For most people who make the trip to Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, their first activity – other than maybe photographing American bison – will be visiting the Admission Center after entering through the Front Gate.
“Customer service is really important at the Front Gate (area),” said Admissions Manager Patty Carroll. “We are basically the (collective) face of Fossil Rim. We always strive to answer the guests’ questions as effectively as we can.”
If guests will take a look at fossilrim.org before they ever hit the road for a Fossil Rim visit, it will answer a lot of questions.
“We get a lot of guests who have not researched (Fossil Rim) on our website, as far as our mission and what we offer,” Carroll said. “Some people compare us to other drive-thru parks, but we are so much more than that because of our conservation efforts.”
Carroll is in her 12th year as Admissions Manager. Over time, she has figured out when to recommend a visit and – just as important – when not to.
“I would recommend coming early in the morning, especially on summer days,” she said. “If it is blazing hot, the animals are going to lay down under the shade trees. The animals don’t care about rain, unless it is hard, pelting rain. If there is a thunderstorm, animal care will put the giraffes up.
“If it is too cold, the giraffes and rhinos will be put up. A hot, sunny summer day is the worst time to visit.”
Carroll’s staff includes Janet Helm, Nancy Reed, Mary Doebbeling, Abby Rodriguez, and Kelsey McCameron.
“I can count on Janet’s ability to arrange the storefront with an eye on merchandising, which helps increase the sales of the items we offer,” Carroll said. “Nancy and Mary bring stability, which is something that every department at Fossil Rim needs to function well. Abby brings a vibrant personality that helps make sure our guests will head out in a good mood.
“Kelsey is a new addition, and it’s great to bring on new staff. It’s the perfect time for everyone to refresh on their job duties, as we all train the new person. This is a repetitive job where we follow a script as guests come in, so it is important to stay sharp on all the details.”
There are some key points that admission staff tries to make clear when guests arrive in advance of heading out on the Gosdin Scenic Drive.
“These animals are wild and potentially dangerous,” Carroll said. “They may look tame and friendly, but they could get you if given the opportunity, whether it is out of fear or maybe just accidentally if you don’t follow the rules. We don’t try to scare the guests, but we do warn them about the ostriches. Stay in your vehicle with the doors closed.
“Only feed the giraffes by hand. The longer the horns are, the further you toss the food away from your car.
“Know the direction you are supposed to go; there are signs directing you the whole way. If something happens, remember you can call (254) 897-2960 and we can get staff out there to assist you if need be. Also, realize the Overlook (area) is about halfway through the park, and that is the only time you can get out of your vehicle.”
Through March 7, the last vehicle is admitted into the park daily at 3:29 p.m. and the last vehicle must be out of the park by 5:30 p.m. On March 8, those two times will bump back to 4:29 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., respectively.
“Those ‘last car’ times are important for several reasons,” Carroll said. “Sometimes, animal care staff needs people cleared out of the park so they can do certain procedures that would benefit from no vehicles driving by. In the wintertime, it gets dark so early and there aren’t streetlights out there. It’s important to give the animals a break each evening so they can be refreshed in the morning and ready for more guests.”
What if a guest thinks the bag of feed pellets they purchase is too small?
“One bag can definitely last for the full drive,” Carroll said. “Realize that we aren’t counting on you to feed the animals to keep them healthy. They have grass and hay available to them, plus the pellets our staff feeds them. If they eat too many pellets, it can be unhealthy for them.
“Pellets are incentive to get the animals closer to you, but you will find that many of the animals approach you whether you actually toss out pellets or not. We don’t radio ahead to the animals and tell them which cars have feed. Even tossing one pellet when an animal is looking at you can do the trick.”
In the Admission Center office, guests can pay admission and also buy animal feed, snacks, drinks, safari hats, caps, and kids’ binoculars. If the Membership Office is closed that day, guests can buy a membership from admission staff.
Despite her focus being on selling admissions, Carroll will try to steer guests toward membership without hesitation.
“If people get a membership, they can come back multiple times and save a lot of money,” she said. “Every day and throughout each day, the experience a guest has can be different. That’s what makes this so different than a zoo. The animals can move about the pastures where they want and when they want.
“Even though I work in admissions, if I only see each customer once because they all get memberships, that’s fine, because it’s good for Fossil Rim. Especially once I know a person is doing admission a second time, I try to let them know it is a missed opportunity not to switch to membership.
“If someone is from out of state or another country, then admission makes more sense for them. If you can’t make it here more than twice a year, then admission probably is the way to go.”
Carroll will also readily point admission guests toward a guided tour.
“Everyone gets to participate on a tour,” she said. “Nobody has to focus on driving; everyone gets their own cup of feed, and our tour guides are a wealth of knowledge about our mission, the park, and the animals. The animals see the tour vehicles as (food trucks).
“If we can upsell someone to a guided tour, we’ll do it. If you come to the Admission Center office, but would like us to check on tour availability for you, just ask.”
What are some other points Carroll would like to address for guests before they arrive, based on past feedback she has received?
“I’d want guests to know we only have three stalls in the ladies’ room,” she said. “That can aggravate some people, but it’s only going to potentially be a factor on a busy day. Sometimes, we will hear guests say the prices are too high, but I would just encourage everyone to check out our website beforehand and then you’ll know exactly what the pricing is before you get here.
“The pricing page will go over all of the discounts, but you should be sure to look that over ahead of time so you bring the proper identification. Also, pricing and feed bag size are not things my staff can control anyway, so I would just hope people are aware of that.”
While Carroll can suggest when to visit based on time of day, season, and weather conditions, she is not a psychic.
“One question we can’t answer is how many animals a guest will see,” she said. “Some people would like us to guarantee they’ll see every type of animal in the ID guide, but when you consider that they can wander away from the scenic drive and out of sight, that’s not a promise we can make. It is in the animals’ best interest to be able to have privacy if they want it.”
How do guests provide feedback about the Admission Center?
“If someone has a concern about their visit, I refer them to our PR (marketing) department,” Carroll said. “If it’s positive feedback, there are many places to leave a review like Facebook, Google, Yelp, or TripAdvisor.”
What parting words would Carroll like to share with guests before she sees them in the Admission Center office?
“Come prepared to take your time,” she said. “Come early in the morning; don’t forget that you can go through more than once (that day). Every trip through is different. Maybe the giraffes don’t come up to you the first time, so you can go try again.
“We really do enjoy interacting with the guests. We get some pretty cool people coming through here.”
The Admission Center opens daily at 8:30 a.m. However, during Fossil Rim’s Spring Break period – March 7-22 – it will open daily at 8 a.m. For details on admission pricing, check out https://fossilrim.org/hours-of-operation/.
-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate