FOSSIL RIM WILDLIFE CENTER, Texas _ A funny thing happened to
northeasterners Jim Jackson and Christine Jurzykowski on their way
to sail around the world. They ended up circumnavigating antelope
poop in Somervell County instead.
But the result of their improbable detour is no joke. The
couple's decision to stake their fortunes hereabouts has given
vigorous new life to a unique institution that a few years ago was
as endangered as many of the animal species it seeks to preserve.
Their personal resources and hands-on leadership have helped
sustain and develop, on the same scenic 3,000-acre spread off U.S.
Hwy. 67 four miles south of Glen Rose and an hour from Fort Worth,
an uncommonly appealing tourist attraction and one of the leading
critter conservation centers in the world.
While the drive-through animal park, with its giraffes, zebras,
rhinos, cheetahs and multitudes of exotic hooved animals, has
charmed visitors for most of a decade and become increasingly
popular, attracting 83,000 visitors last year, the center's
much-less-visible conservation efforts have remained little known
to the public.
In just a few years, though, Fossil Rim has gained national and
international notice and respect within the conservation community
for its successes in captive breeding, its collaborative efforts in
global conservation and its initiatives in conservation management,
education, research and training.
Fossil Rim is dedicated to the proposition that conservation
can _ indeed, must _ pay its own way. And to that end it operates
not only the drive-through animal park with related food and drink
and gift shop concessions but also luxury safari camps and varied
horseback excursions. It also sells animals to zoos and private
The center also is the hub of a growing network of support
organizations and volunteer efforts keyed to various aspects of
Profit _ when and if there is any _ never will be the end at
Fossil Rim; it will be the means of continuing and expanding the
institution's conservation work, say owners Jackson and
Jurzykowski, who envision the center as a model for similar
operations elsewhere in this country and abroad.
"We're not self-sustaining yet, but we're on the way," said
Jackson, who with Jurzykowski, his wife and partner, has poured
millions of dollars of their own into acquiring, expanding and
operating the center over the past five years.
Fossil Rim is the product of two controlling visions _ parallel
and compatible in many respects but destined to clash bitterly
before a resolution that enabled the institution to move forward.
The first vision was that of Fort Worth oil executive Tom
Mantzel, without whom there would be no Fossil Rim.
He founded what then was Waterfall Ranch in the 1970s as an
outlet for his fascination with exotic wildlife, stocked it with
many of the animals that still live there, launched educational
programs, started the public drive-through as a means of supporting
the facility and began the captive breeding of endangered species
that remains Fossil Rim's primary reason for being.
But even as Mantzel's ambitions for the renamed Fossil Rim
Ranch were expanding, his ability to sustain the facility
financially was declining precipitously in the oil-industry debacle
and Texas' general economic slide in the 1980s.
Meanwhile, Jackson and Jurzykowski, globe-trotting
entrepreneurs, sailing enthusiasts and dedicated environmentalists,
had begun to seek more direct personal involvement in the
conservation cause they had suppkrted financially and in spirit for
From very different backgrounds of independent success, Jackson
and Jurzykowski had met when they lived close together in
Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., and were friends for years before their
Jackson had dropped out of college in his native West Virginia
to join the Army during the Vietnam War, in which he served as a
helicopter pilot _ after training at Fort Wolters in Palo Pinto
County and frequently flying over the area he one day would call
home _ and was wounded. …