A local zoo without animals

 Uncategorized
Sep 272010
 
Authors: Emily Johnson

Surrounded by aliens, dinosaurs, a heavy metal band and a castle for a home, Bill Swets lives in his own version of Neverland: the Swetsville Zoo.

Swetsville Zoo isn’t your typical zoo. There are no live animals roaming around. Instead enormous metal dinosaurs, futuristic spaceships, bugs, bees, aliens, robots, 12-foot wind chimes and dragons watch over the property.

Swets, a self-taught metal fabricator, has sculpted strange and humorous creations since 1985. A farmer for most of his life, and a volunteer firefighter for more than 20 years, creating quirky art wasn’t necessarily Swets’ life calling.

Nonetheless, nearly 150 handcrafted metal sculptures have made their way from his workshop to his front lawn for public viewing. Each piece of art is branded with the original XS-bar that his family used to brand cattle on their farm.

“His mind is just going all the time,” said Don Swets, Bill’s son. “He’s got a great sense of humor and a natural talent for art.”

Weighing more than 2,000 pounds, Ali Senior is the largest dinosaur in the zoo, coming in at 20 feet. It took two months to build.

“Most of the big ones take a month or two months to finish,” Don said. “That’s working eight to 10 hours a day on them, which Bill usually did.”

Don said 15,000 to 20,000 visitors a year come to the zoo in Tinmath, just east of Fort Collins along Harmony Road, to see the creatures. Among the towering sculptures are smaller pieces too, like a Bill Clinton sculpture that has a long pointy nose and a quote above it that says, “Monica, Monica who?”

With every sculpture there is a description written by Bill and some carry a darker political message. For example, a parking meter fashioned into a government agent named, C.I. Stick-It-To-Um is accompanied by a description that says, “Don’t you just get tired of Big Brother?”

The sculptures are made from a variety of car and truck parts, farm equipment, tubing and sheet metal. What were once exhaust pipes from a motorcycle are now funny-looking birds, Loyd and Floyd.

Since 1995, Swets has slowed down his sculpting.

“He’s getting up there,” Don said. “He’s taking it easy and just making little ones.”

Bill is currently living in Texas for the winter to take a break from everything, as his wife, Sandy, recently passed away.

Don and his wife Jo Dee are taking care of the zoo, which is on the family property next to the Poudre River and used to be a working dairy farm, originally purchased by Bill’s parents in 1945.

Jo Dee enjoys living there, although it was hard to get used to at first with so many visitors roaming the family’s personal property.

“It’s kind of like living in Disney World sometimes,” she said. “You never know when you come outside if someone is going to be in your front yard. I don’t really mind though. Ninety-nine percent of the time visitors are polite and really great.”

Swetsville Zoo likely won’t be around forever Don imagines.

“I don’t think that it will ever completely close,” he said, “Unless we’re bought out.”

Recent road construction near the Swet’s property threatened the zoo due to zoning and traffic safety issues. But it was spared.

“I don’t think Dad would sell them all anyway,” he said. “They are like his babies.”

A more practical scenario would be to move them to a nearby park for the community to continue to enjoy.

For now, everyone from kids to seniors come to temporarily get lost in this secret world of imagination. When asking some children who were visiting on Sunday what they thought, the sentiment was the same.

“Cool.”

“Fun.”

“Awesome.”

Staff writer Emily Johnson can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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