Special Message


After 25 Years, the Sun Sets on The Wildlife Discovery Center: Thank You, Rob Carmichael!

watch the video of rob's message

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Curator Rob Carmichael has been the cornerstone of the Wildlife Discovery Center since he dreamed it into existence from just two snakes in one room at the Recreation Center. For 25 years, Rob has shared his passion for wildlife with the Lake Forest community through the Wildlife Discovery Center.

After a long and successful career, Rob plans to retire out of state later this spring. After thoughtful deliberations about its future, the Wildlife Discovery Center is beginning to relocate animals to other outstanding facilities in preparation for officially closing in March.

"We are so grateful to Rob for dedicating his career to the Wildlife Discovery Center," said Parks and Recreation Director Sally Swarthout. "Rob brought his vision to life in a way we never could have imagined. While we're happy for Rob to embark on his next adventure with his family, we will miss him dearly."

If you know Rob, you know he's the heart and soul of the Wildlife Discovery Center. While the Wildlife Discovery Center is a City of Lake Forest program, operations are almost entirely funded by private donations. Financial considerations and the long-term sustainability of the program drove the City to the decision to close the Wildlife Discovery Center.

"As the sun sets on the Wildlife Discovery Center, please take time to discover nature, wildlife, and everything it offers," said Rob. "I'm excited to spend the next few months celebrating the memories we've made together."

The animals will be relocated to various conservation and rehabilitation facilities around the country where they will continue to receive the best care. Several animals, including Betsy the Bald Eagle, Met and Mena the Coyotes, and Jax and Spartan the foxes will be staying nearby at Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation in Barrington, IL. Rob and the Wildlife Discovery Center have educated and delighted the community with a fantastic array of animals, from Alligators to Zebra-Tailed Lizards. We are grateful for the animal lovers that have come to visit and learn at the Wildlife Discovery Center. As the doors close to the Wildlife Discovery Center, it presents a unique opportunity to imagine what comes next.

We understand you may have questions about this news - we've prepared Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) below that address some common questions.

The Wildlife Discovery Center will remain open over the next few months, although some exhibits will begin to close when animals are moved to new locations. Planning is underway for special events and activities to celebrate Rob and the legacy of the Wildlife Discovery Center.


Media Inquiries:

Dana Olson

Communications Manager, The City of Lake Forest

Office: (847) 810-3672 | olsond@cityoflakeforest.com


FAQs

Why is the Wildlife Discovery Center closing?
For 25 years, Rob Carmichael has shared his passion for wildlife with the Lake Forest community through the Wildlife Discovery Center. After a long and successful career, Rob plans to retire out of state later this spring.

If you know Rob, you know he's the heart and soul of the Wildlife Discovery Center. While the Wildlife Discovery Center is a City of Lake Forest program, operations are almost entirely funded by private donations from a few individuals which isn't a long-term sustainable funding model. Significant infrastructure investments would need to be made, which contributed to the decision to sunset the program.

The City had long considered succession planning efforts. The Curator's role is unique - it requires someone with an expertise in animal husbandry, familiarity with animal licenses, community outreach abilities, educational and teaching skills programming acumen, as well as strong relationships with local veterinarians and facilities around the country. When evaluating options, it became abundantly clear that any succession planning would require a significant increase in staffing in order to maintain the current level of operations, due to Rob's extreme dedication, passion, and commitment to the role. Ultimately, it was determined that it would be best for both Rob and the Wildlife Discovery Center to end on a "high note" and be remembered for what it is today.

While the Wildlife Discovery Center is closing its doors, the impact it has made on the community remains - the wonderful memories of helping wildlife, educating the community, hosting signature events such as Reptile Rampage and CROCtoberfest, and all the stories that came with it over 25 years. Rob has some great ones, and we will be sharing those over the next few months!

Who made this decision?
After thoughtful deliberations, City staff determined that the additional financial investment needed to sustain the Wildlife Discovery Center would place undue pressure on other City services throughout the community. While it was not an easy decision, the decision to sunset the Wildlife Discovery Center has been made and animals are being relocated to various conservation and rehab facilities around the country where they will receive the best care.

Where are the animals going?
The wellbeing of the animals is our top priority. Rob is placing the animals with reputable zoological facilities and rehabilitation facilities across the country to ensure the animals continue to receive the best care. Several animals, including Betsy the Bald Eagle, Met and Mena the Coyotes, and Jax and Spartan the foxes will be staying nearby at Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation in Barrington, IL.

Can more donations save the Wildlife Discovery Center?
Financial sustainability was not the only reason for sunsetting the program, so additional donations would not make a difference. The City did not deem it fiscally responsible to turn to additional tax-based funding to support operations.

How do we tell the kids?
We recommend telling them gently and planning to visit their favorite animals soon to find out where their new home will be. Many of the animals will go to local facilities, so it will still be possible to visit. You may even find a new favorite wildlife facility to visit.

Local options for similar experiences include:

  • Lambs Farm, 14245 W Lambs Lane, Green Oaks, IL 60048
  • Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation, 117 S. Cook St #145, Barrington, IL 60010
  • Grove Nature Center, 1421 Milwaukee Ave, Glenview, IL 60025
  • Willowbrook Wildlife Center, 525 South Park Blvd, Glen Ellyn, IL 60137
  • Racine Zoo, 2131 N Main St, Racine, WI 53402

When is the last day to visit?
The Wildlife Discovery Center will remain open over the next few months, although some exhibits will begin to close, and hours may be reduced when animals are moved to new locations. The official last day will be Friday, March 24, 2023.

What is the plan for the space at Elawa Farm?
As the doors close to the Wildlife Discovery Center, it presents a unique opportunity to imagine what comes next for the space. The City is considering options to activate the space.

How are you planning to celebrate the Wildlife Discovery Center?
Planning is underway for special events and activities to celebrate Rob and the legacy of the Wildlife Discovery Center. More information will be shared on the Wildlife Discovery Center website.

How can I share my appreciation for Rob and the Wildlife Discovery Center?
We'd love your help celebrating Rob and the Wildlife Discovery Center! Share stories and pictures with us on social media by tagging @WildlifeDiscoveryCenter or by emailing cityhall@cityoflakeforest.com. If you'd like to write thank you letters, send cards, drawings, pictures, mail them to Rob Carmichael, Wildlife Discovery Center, 1401 Middlefork Dr, Lake Forest, IL 60045.