There is a unique, natural and somewhat unexplored common bond that exists between humans and the rest of God’s creatures. Lake Tobias Wildlife Park allows families to delve into that bond, in a family-friendly atmosphere.
In this way, Lake Tobias, located in Halifax, is about families, for families and by families.
Owned and operated by the Tobias family for 57 years, the park is more than 200 acres of wooded land and fields set up to allow humans to closely interact one-on-one with 700 animals representing six continents and nearly 100 different species, only a handful of which are native to central Pennsylvania.
“People seem to have a natural attraction to the outdoors,” said Jan Tobias-Kiefer, one of 10 owners of the park and Lake Tobias’ director of public relations and marketing. “Is it a sense of freedom? The people who come here are young families, outdoors lovers and nature lovers. We advertise mainly to women between 25 to 50, because they tend to make plans for families.”
Because there’s so much to see and do at Lake Tobias, time moves quickly for visitors. A typical visit could last as long as four hours, and everything revolves around seeing animals, learning about them and moving freely in their adopted home.
The Safari Tour, which takes visitors on a guided ride through woods and pastures inhabited by a menagerie of four-legged and two-legged creatures, makes it more than just a zoo. Other attractions include a reptiles and exotics facility, a petting zoo, a zoo baby exhibit, a catch-and-release fishing pond, the J.R. Tobias Museum and Education Center and assorted concessions.
“I think just the fact that it’s family-owned and operated makes it unique,” said Tobias-Kiefer. “It’s family-owned for families. It is very much a family-oriented place. It can be a very nice family day trip, and it’s affordable. And it’s right here in central Pennsylvania.”
During the 2019 season, before the COVID-19 crisis hit, Lake Tobias Wildlife Park hosted an all-time high of more than 249,000 visitors. Of those, about 17,000 were students visiting in May on class trips. Lake Tobias is also a great place for private parties, company picnics and family reunions.
“I like that people come,” said Tobias-Kiefer, a 63-year-old resident of Halifax. “I like that we’re able to offer all of this to the people of central Pennsylvania. I like to be able to continue dad’s dream, just like everybody in the family. And I like that people can get close to the animals.”
Build His Dream
Lake Tobias Wildlife Park was formally opened to the public in 1965. The park was, and continues to be, the vision of James Raymond Tobias, a Halifax native who enlisted in the Marines after high school and then returned to the area to establish a number of excavating and grading businesses.
J.R. passed in 1996, and Lake Tobias Wildlife Park is now owned and operated by six of his remaining children and four of his grandchildren. Some 18 of Tobias’ descendants currently work at the park, which employs 190 mostly Halifax-area residents in the height of the season.
“Dad was always interested in exotic animals,” said Tobias-Kiefer. “He set up exhibits along the road, and people driving by would stop and look at them. So, he started to add exhibits, and, in 1965, he opened the park to the public. All of his businesses helped slowly build his dream.”
Over those years, Lake Tobias Wildlife Park has matured and evolved to feature more, bigger and better exhibits, all with the intent of bringing people and animals closer together.
“People who come and haven’t been here in awhile will tell us how much it’s changed,” said Tobias-Kiefer. “I think it’s become more family friendly. We’ve been able to expand exhibits, and it’s more educational. We want you to leave here with an appreciation for nature and the animals that are here.”
Lake Tobias Wildlife Park’s goal moving forward is simply to keep doing what it’s been doing. It’s more about tweaking, fine-tuning and enhancing the individual experience than repairing something that isn’t broken.
But that doesn’t mean the Tobiases don’t have ideas for adding different animals and new exhibits in the future.
“I think the goal for the future is to improve the facilities we have and improve the experience here,” said Tobias-Kiefer. “We just hope people find this hidden gem and come here and experience what dad’s dream was. We want them to enjoy wildlife as much as he did.”
At Lake Tobias Wildlife Park, it’s all about family.
Lake Tobias Wildlife Park is located at 760 Tobias Rd., Halifax. For more information, visit www.laketobias.com.
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