National Zoo’s new carousel offers a wild ride -- Gazette.Net


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Lions, tigers and bears maybe, but a Baltimore oriole, a blue crab and a naked mole rat aren’t animals you would see on a typical carousel.

However, the new carousel at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo is not your typical carousel. It is one of the only solar-powered carousels in the world.

Olney resident Chuck Fillah, 59, has been responsible for every step of the project, from its inception to the final details.

“Yes, I’ve been pretty lucky to have this job,” he said. “There’s never a dull moment, and I have seen some incredible things over the years.”

After graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park with a degree in landscaping and horticulture, Fillah began working at the zoo 29 years ago. During his tenure, he has revamped the whole landscape and horticulture program, and has been an integral part of building several new animal habitats.

He is now the assistant director of planning and strategic initiative, managing major projects, such as the new American Trail, a $43 million exhibit which opened in September, and the $2.3 million carousel, which opened last month.

The carousel has been in the zoo’s master plan for the past three to four years, but Fillah said he took the project on about 18 months ago.

Fillah’s research showed that about 80 percent of accredited zoos have carousels. He visited several of them, and also Carousel Works in Ohio, the company that built it.

The carousel, made possible by the Speedwell Foundation, features 58 hand-carved and hand-painted animals, many of them endangered species that zoo scientists have spent years studying, breeding and working to reintroduce into the wild.

“The workmanship is amazing,” Fillah said. “The animals are all carved from basswood and are all very natural looking.”

The animals are divided into four habitats — desert, forest, ocean and grassland.

“First and foremost, the carousel is a great attraction for the whole family,” said Dennis Kelly, director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. “But I’m hoping that the riders will be inspired by the conservation messages. Some of the gorgeous animals reflect the great conservation success stories of our time while others represent animals we are racing to save.”

Although the zoo admission is free, the carousel rides costs $3. Fillah said revenue would help support conservation initiatives, especially as the federal budget gets tight.

Solar panels donated and installed by Pepco Energy Services provide the energy, leaving a net-zero impact on the zoo’s energy consumption.

“We are hoping that as the days get longer and the sun gives off more power, we can put even more energy back into the zoo’s grid,” he said.

One hundred and sixty-two solar panels donated and installed by Pepco Energy Services power the Conservation Carousel. Any excess energy is diverted back to the zoo’s electrical grid.

An interactive digital dashboard allows guests to see how the carousel generates and uses solar energy in real time. A touch-screen display translates the energy the carousel saves into more familiar terms, such as the number of trees saved, the hours of video games that could be played or the cups of coffee that could be brewed with the same amount of energy.

“Our goal is to make the zoo the best place we can for families to have fun, learn and support our conservation efforts,” he said. “This is just another way to do that.”

The carousel is open during regular zoo hours and during ZooLights holiday festival. Proceeds from the carousel support the zoo’s animal care and conservation science initiatives. For more information, go to www.nationalzoo.si.edu.

thogan@gazette.net