Issaquah man is ready to celebrate rare Feb. 29 birthday

February 28, 2012

Christopher Hetzel has a special appreciation for the February page of a calendar on every fourth year, when the number 29 comes up in the last square. By Greg Farrar

Christopher Hetzel, a middle-aged man, is poised to turn 10.

The architectural historian and Issaquah resident is actually closer to 40, but due to a quirk in the Gregorian calendar, Hetzel’s birthday, Feb. 29, only comes around as often as a presidential election.

In other years, Hetzel celebrated the leap day birthday on Feb. 28. Come Feb. 29, however, the quadrennial occasion requires a blowout celebration.

“When you’re young, it always sets you apart as being special, which is of course a positive thing,” he said.

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Snowstorm does not disrupt life for Cougar Mountain Zoo denizens

January 24, 2012

Snowstorm, ice and aftermath / Jan. 16-20, 2012

Biff the alpaca stands in the snow as a snowstorm hit Cougar Mountain Zoo on Jan. 18. By Robyn Barfoot/Cougar Mountain Zoo

The macaws retreated inside to toastier temperatures. The tigers tolerated the cold. The reindeer, unsurprisingly, reveled in the snow.

Though most Issaquah residents experienced a snow day Jan. 18, a major snowstorm did not disrupt the routine for the denizens of Cougar Mountain Zoo.

“The animals don’t care that it’s snowing outside and we don’t want to get out of bed,” General Curator Robyn Barfoot said. “They need us and that is our driving force.”

The rare Bengal tigers Almos, Bagheera, Taj and Vitez lounge in heated enclosures if the mercury falls. Some species — such as colorful macaws and other birds from tropical climates — spend cold days inside and off display. Other animals carouse in the cold temperatures and deep snow.

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Snow blankets Cougar Mountain Zoo / Jan. 18, 2012

January 18, 2012

Snowstorm does not disrupt life for Cougar Mountain Zoo denizens

January 18, 2012

A cougar cub at Issaquah's Cougar Mountain Zoo turns skyward as a snowstorm blankets the region Wednesday. By Robyn Barfoot

NEW — 8 p.m. Jan. 18, 2012

The macaws retreat inside to toastier temperatures. The tigers tolerate the cold. The reindeer, unsurprisingly, revel in the snow.

Though most Issaquah residents experienced a snow day Wednesday, a major snowstorm did not disrupt the routine for the denizens of Cougar Mountain Zoo.

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Rogue the reindeer is ready to take the reins

December 20, 2011

Rogue, Cougar Mountain Zoo’s 5-month-old reindeer, looks through a window checking out visitors to Santa’s house during the Reindeer Festival this month. By Greg Farrar

He may be only 5 months old, but he already weighs 84 pounds and is about three and half feet tall at his shoulders.

Especially as this is the holiday time of year, he has made numerous personal appearances at Christmas tree lightings and similar events, said Robyn Barfoot, general curator of the Cougar Mountain Zoological Park.

The toddler in question, however, probably is not going to be caught sitting on Santa’s lap.

Instead, Rogue the reindeer already is harness trained and ready to help pull Santa’s sleigh, Barfoot said.

“Santa likes to refer to him as ‘Blitzen,’” Barfoot added.

Rogue even already has his own Christmas song. The private Cougar Mountain Academy is near the zoo. Teachers and children there have come up with a version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” using Rogue’s name, Barfoot said.

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American Kennel Club judge is suspect in ‘animal hoarding’ case

December 6, 2011

The suspect in a case investigators described as “animal hoarding” is a judge for the American Kennel Club, a prestigious registry of purebred dogs.

Pasado’s Safe Haven, a nonprofit animal rescue organization in Seattle, released the information Nov. 30, as the investigation continues into dogs discovered living in filthy conditions in Issaquah and Burien homes.

King County animal control officers seized 62 dogs from a Cougar Mountain home in Issaquah and 38 more from a Burien home in early October.

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Cougar Mountain Zoo hosts 23rd annual Issaquah Reindeer Festival

November 29, 2011

One of Santa’s sled-propulsion units walks about for exercise before Christmas Eve last year in the front yard of Santa’s House at Cougar Mountain Zoo. By Greg Farrar

First held in 1988, the annual Issaquah Reindeer Festival runs Dec. 1-23 at the Cougar Mountain Zoo.

Zoo General Curator Robyn Barfoot said the event regularly attracts up to 10,000 visitors. Some travel relatively long distances to make it to the festival, even coming from well east of the Cascades.

“It’s a family tradition for many people,” Barfoot said.

Although the zoo is technically closed for the season, 10 of Santa’s reindeer team will be ready and awaiting visitors daily.

At the Magic Forest, visitors can hand feed the South American reindeer. And among numerous other activities, kids and parents also can visit Santa in his house and get a picture with the jolly old elf.

Visitors can also listen to stories read by an elf, see Santa’s sleigh, shop and pick up hot drinks and snacks. The younger set also can write a letter to Santa and then place it in his personal mailbox.

The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Santa will take a lunch break roughly from 1-1:30 p.m. daily. Pictures with Santa are $15 for the first shot and $10 for additional shots. You can take your own pictures for a fee.

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Issaquah businesses target tourists for attractions, events

October 25, 2011

Issaquah leaders often describe local qualities as treasures — a quaint downtown, mountain panoramas, historic buildings and more.

Local businesspeople describe such attractions as “tourism assets” all set for out-of-town guests to enjoy and, in the process, spend dollars in hotels and restaurants.

Issaquah Chamber of Commerce officials gathered representatives from local “tourism assets” Oct. 18 to discuss successes and opportunities to lure more tourists to the area.

Leaders from artEAST, Cougar Mountain Zoo, Village Theatre, and other Issaquah attractions and events, said attendance is strong, but sometimes people overlook local offerings.

“Tastin’ N Racin’ — unfortunately — is Issaquah’s best-kept secret,” event organizer Craig Cooke said. “Nationally, it’s not. There are events in 13 other states that have all called and patterned their event on what goes on on land and what goes on in water.”

Tastin’ N Racin’ attracts 20,000 people — and sometimes up to 50,000 — to Lake Sammamish State Park each June for hydroplane races and onshore offerings.

Other long-established attractions face a similar challenge in luring potential tourists.

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Cruise passengers urged to explore beyond Seattle

October 25, 2011

From the Space Needle to Pike Place Market, Seattle has plenty to offer its guests, but the Washington Tourism Alliance and the Port of Seattle are encouraging cruise ship tourists to explore beyond the predictable city limits. They are hoping tourists will venture into the suburban and rural areas outside of Seattle, including Issaquah.

“It’s really about what can you offer as an attractive package as an add-on to the cruise purchase,” said Dan Trimble, then-economic development manager for the city of Issaquah. “We’re pretty fortunate here to have several things that can be easily compartmentalized to those packages.”

Bill Bryant

From the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery and Cougar Mountain Zoo, to outdoor opportunities and shopping districts, Issaquah has plenty to offer its tourists, Trimble said.

This is part of a plan carried out by the newly established Washington Tourism Alliance, which is working along with the Port of Seattle and other tourism agencies to let people know about the tourist opportunities that exist outside of Seattle.

“The cruise ship (industry) brings about $400 million to King County and the region, and that’s because the passengers are staying one to two nights in the area. But most of them are spending that time in downtown Seattle,” Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant said.

He said he hopes the cruise ship tourists extend their stay and explore the surrounding areas, “whether that is wineries in Woodinville or going out to Snoqualmie Falls.”

The state Legislature recently cut funding for the state tourism office.

In its place, various stakeholders including the port, some of the hotel associations and some of the restaurant associations have established the WTA to serve as a vehicle for communities to reach out to tourists, Bryant said.

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Police seize 62 dogs from home in ‘animal hoarding’ case

October 11, 2011

King County animal control officers seized 62 dogs from a Cougar Mountain home in Issaquah — and 38 more from a Burien home — Oct. 6 in a case investigators described as “animal hoarding.”

Kristina Tsai bathes a dog Oct. 7 at a King County animal shelter after it was seized during an "animal hoarding" investigation Oct. 6. By Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times

In a raid on the Burien house, King County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Regional Animal Services of King County officers discovered 38 ill Chihuahua, Japanese Chin and Pomeranian dogs in dirty crates. Then, investigators searched a house in the 5900 block of 189th Avenue Southeast on Cougar Mountain, about a mile south of Cougar Mountain Zoo.

Veterinarians later euthanized nine dogs from the Burien house due to poor health. The day after the raids, veterinarians euthanized another dog due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Investigators said the animals from the Issaquah house appeared to be in good health and housed in clean crates, although the condition of the house prompted animal control officers to take the dogs into custody.

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