The overgrown vegetation and untrimmed trees may have made the Santa's Village site in East Dundee look more like a jungle than an amusement park in recent years, but by the end of the summer, the place will be a zoo.
Jason Sierpien, a co-owner of A Zoo to You - a Marengo-based mobile petting zoo - will open The Azoosment Park at Santa's Village. The petting zoo, which will feature barnyard animals, reptiles and exotic animals, is expected to open within the next month.
"The place has such a huge name recognition and we originally wanted to reopen the barnyard area," said Sierpien, who co-owns the petting zoo with his wife, Amy. "But it has just taken off and now we have seven acres with some kiddie rides and concessions. It is going to be an amusement parklike atmosphere."
The amusement park shut it doors in 2006 after more than 45 years. Sierpien worked as a farmhand at Old MacDonald's Farm at the park.
"This is like coming full circle for the second time," Sierpien said. "This is where I had my first real job as a kid."
Sierpien said the zoo will include reindeer, wallabies, foxes, alligators, snakes, lizards, birds, an African porcupine, camels and zebras. The family provided animals for Santa's Village in 2005 - the park's final year of operation.
"It is going to be some great family fun for the younger crowd to learn about animals," Sierpien said. "As we move into the future, we don't see the exotic animals. We have some that are on the endangered species list. People don't even get to see sheep that often."
Village officials said the venture is a step in the right direction for revitalizing the 38-acre site near routes 72 and 25. In the past few years, it's been the site of flea markets, rodeos and other short-term events.
"This is a positive to get activity going over there again," Village Administrator Frank Koehler said. "They have done a lot of work to the site."
That work included hours spent clearing brush and debris, Sierpien said.
"It took two crews of four guys four days to clear the trees so we could get in to work," Sierpien said. "Since then we have cleaned, painted and sanitized everything."
The Azoosment Park will run from mid-September through Christmas Eve, and reopen in April.