Topeka man works to save iconic ‘Animal Land’ playground

Topeka man works to save iconic ‘Animal Land’ playground

TOPEKA (KSNT) – A group of Topekans are fighting to preserve a piece of the Capital City’s history for the next generation of kids to enjoy.

27 News spoke with James George, the man behind the effort to restore statutes located in Gage Park’s unique ‘Animal Land’ playground for children. He said he is being called to action by Shawnee County Parks and Recreation Superintendent John Bell to give the statues a fresh look before summer this year.

George, also known as ‘The Gypsy,’ might sound familiar to some Topekans. He headed a volunteer force in 2015 to restore Animal Land by getting rid of dirt, old paint and graffiti. He came back to Topeka in 2013 after leaving at the age of 15 and made it his mission to see the playground restored to its former glory.

“When I saw Animal Land, I was just in shock,” George said. “They had, instead of staining the statutes like originally intended, they had been painting them. It looks shabby and deteriorates the concrete.”

Kansas eclipse chasers ready to fight the crowds for perfect viewing spot

George said it took weeks for the volunteer task force to clean the statues in 2015. He spent many nights watching the statues to ensure they weren’t hit with more graffiti or otherwise vandalized.

“We got that done,” George said. “It was a huge success… everybody loved the work we did.”

Bell with the SCP+R reached out to George this year to see if he would be willing to clean up the statutes a second time around. Their help is a major cost-saver for the SCP+R.

“Animal Land at Gage Park, holds significant importance to the community as a cherished local attraction.

The volunteers that are going to help restore the animals play a crucial role in maintaining and enhancing Animal Land. Their work not only helps preserve the infrastructure of the park but also demonstrates a strong sense of community pride and engagement. Without their contributions, the upkeep of Animal Land would be much more challenging and costly.”

Shawnee County Parks and Recreation Superintendent John Bell

Comedian Gabriel Iglesias sets date for show in Kansas

George is happy to help a second time around. He put out the call for volunteers recently and, so far, has gathered a group of around 30 people to give him a hand.

“I think we’re gonna be able to get this done in a couple weekends with the amount of people who’ve signed up,” George said.

Currently, the group plans to scrub the statutes by hand before blasting them with power washers. Each statute will then be stained to complete the restoration process.

“Animal Land has a really special place in my heart,” George said.

George said the group will start their work at 9 a.m. on Sunday, April 7 and return again on Sunday, April 14. The group will return on other Sundays in April if more work still needs to be done.

“I appreciate all the volunteers, both the 2015 and 2024 volunteers,” George said. “I also appreciate the fact Animal Land is so well-loved by the people of Topeka. As long as we can continue to love it and keep it upgraded and don’t change what it is or what it will continue to be, Animal Land will be loved for generations to come.”

Kansas towns compete for ‘best small town’ title

You can get in touch with George’s volunteer group by checking out the event on Facebook by clicking here.

For more local news, click here. Keep up with the latest breaking news in northeast Kansas by downloading our mobile app and by signing up for our news email alerts. Sign up for our Storm Track Weather app by clicking here.

Follow Matthew Self on X (Twitter):

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to KSNT 27 News.