Rolling Hills Zoo

The Legacy of Charlie Walker

Over decades, Rolling Hills Zoo evolved under the vision and care of Salina businessman, rancher, and philanthropist Charlie Walker, whose legacy leaves a lasting footprint across Salina and Saline County.

“Rolling Hills Zoo was an important part of Charlie’s life,” long-time associate Morrie Soderberg said. “His love and care for animals was legendary.”

Soderberg remembers that the zoo “was a hands-on, daily project and Charlie made it clear that he wanted the zoo and its inhabitants to always be cared for. With the help of the Community Foundation, we began early on to make sure funds would be available to carry on his legacy at Rolling Hills after his death.”

The zoo opened in 1999; in 2005 the vision expanded to include a Wildlife Museum. Today, the 60 landscaped acres protect more than 100 species of wildlife — all begun with Walker’s purchase of a section of land in the early 1980s. Walker died in 2012, but his influence lives on as visitors of all ages come face-to-face with animals including camels, frogs, rhinos, and lions. In the museum, dioramas depict the connections between humans and nature in seven global regions from the arctic to the rainforest.

“The zoo is an absolute gem sitting in the middle of Kansas and Walker’s legacy guarantees the gem is going to continue to sparkle for a long time to come,” Executive Director Bob Jenkins said. Today, the zoo’s work in preservation and education attracts more than 80,000 visitors and participants each year.

Walker set up an endowment at GSCF to help support the zoo. The endowment provides operational support for the zoo every year. In addition, the zoo also has an organization fund to provide long-term support for future operations. These funds mean the zoo is able to hire the best professional staff, feed the animals, and maintain animal enclosures. Special projects, like creating a snow leopard breeding exhibit that is currently in the design phase, are aided by additional fundraising that builds on Walker’s legacy of community philanthropy.

“The phenomenal support we get from all kinds of folks across the community and all income brackets is a tribute to Walker,” Jenkins said. “I have yet to meet anyone who does not remember him fondly for two reasons — his commitment to Salina and his undying generosity to so many.”

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