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Fort Collins, Colorado

Swetsville Zoo

This "zoo" is a cross between a junkyard and a sculpture garden, featuring animals you won't see anywhere else. 

Mention a trip to the zoo, and it will conjure all sorts of whimsical childhood memories of chattering monkeys, aquatic acrobats, and stuffed animals. This is not that kind of zoo.

The Swetsville Zoo is a different animal altogether – pun fully intended. Instead of lions and tigers and bears, Swetsville offers massive metal spiders built from Buicks towering high in the air, castles built from concrete, and nostalgic characters greeting visitors of all ages. Alongside the classic dragons and choo-choos are aliens and dinosaurs, and things that, if they have names at all, you’d have to ask Bill Swets just what exactly they are.

Bill Swets is the artist behind this motley metal menagerie. What started in 1985 as something to keep him busy during the throes of insomnia quickly developed into a calling, and now his creatures and creations delight visitors and locals alike. Part junkyard and part sculpture garden, it’s a strange and wonderful place that newcomers aren’t always entirely sure how to react to, but it’s a treasure in Fort Collins, considered both a display of public art and a popular park.

While the Swetsville Zoo has been a beloved staple for decades, the signs of surrounding development do not bode well. Combined with some legal troubles involving a family member (unrelated to the zoo) and the regular wear and tear of weather, age and vandalism, it’s likely this fantastic sculpture zoo may not be long for this world.