HANOVER, Mich. — Six months ago, Brendan and Ashley Finerty looked on as their farm and years of hard work went up in flames.
An electrical fire took out their supply barns on Dec. 15
“It was terrible. I cried so hard. This has been Brendan’s dream since he was three years old,” Brendan’s mom, Vicki Basile, said.
The only saving grace was that their animals weren’t hurt. Now, they have re-opened, this time as the Wild World Biodiversity Center.
“The community here in Hanover, we have had unbelievable support from the township and everybody else opening," Brendan said. "They did a raffle to help us raise some money. We had some local businesses just pitch in.”
The community came to their aid. A GoFundMe was established in hopes of rebuilding the barns. Friends, family and strangers raised just short of $3,500.
Their business is now located at the site of the former Buffalo Ranch on Rountree Road in Hanover. Brendan feels like it's fate they were able to get the 56-acre site. He says, after he and his wife purchased their house nearby, the Buffalo Ranch was always calling their name.
“Five years ago, I said, ‘You know it would be kind of funny one day we could end up getting that.’ We sort of sat back and watched the property,” Finerty said. “It came to the point if we wanted to go anywhere, we would have to go past the Buffalo Ranch. When everything happened and we thought we were cooked, the owners reached out to us out of the goodness of their hearts. We managed to strike up a deal and now here we are.”
The Buffalo Ranch was a popular destination in the 1970s where guests would come watch rodeos.
The sale was finalized on April 15. Brendan said the next two months were some of the most grueling work he has ever put in.
“Until June 11, these were 20-hour days. It was an unbelievable amount of work,” he said. “Thankfully we had an incredible landscaping company come out and clean everything up because there’s no way I would be able to do everything on my own. My wife who works a Monday through Friday job was working until 4:30 and then would come out and work here until midnight. We were working under the headlights. It was an unbelievable two months to get everything up in time.”
They opened on Saturday. Guests can come in seven days a week to view and pet the animals that range from domestic to exotic. Emus, alpacas, peacocks, an alligator, a double yellow-headed Amazon parrot, two Australian black swans are just some of the animals they have on-site.
“We are currently seeing about 100 to 120. Probably 85 percent of them are farm animals or small insects. We have quite a variety of domestic breeds,” Finerty said.
Finerty says the majority of their animals are either rescued or donated to them by people who “can’t take care of them anymore or don’t want them anymore.”
“The peacocks came to us from the Washtenaw Songbird Center,” Finerty said. “They bought a new building and the guy who was selling them told the place that if the Washtenaw Center did not take them, he was going to shoot them. The center is only set up for native species. They contacted us and asked if we could take them in.”
Basile said it's a very educational experience.
“If you don’t know a lot about any animals Brendan will teach you," she said. "He’s very knowledgeable. When you leave here you won’t just say, ‘Oh, the goats licked my hand. Ww.’ You’ll say, ‘Oh, wow. This is so cool.”
It was not easy to open Wild World. At one point they thought they would never be able to reopen.
“To be honest, once we got word that there was an issue with the insurance being written, we honestly kind of thought we had no idea what we were going to do,” Brendan said. “We kind of thought we had hit a wall especially after COVID that we might not be able to recover for years if at all. So the fact that we can stand here six months later and be open like this, it’s the definition of a Cinderella story.”
Finerty says they still plan on going to offsite birthday parties, offering pony rides at the Jackson Hot Air Jubilee and visiting schools and nursing homes during the January through March offseason to keep their business a year-long operation.
“Maybe they’re driving up north from Ohio or something this kind of gives them something to do,” Finerty said. “Families that are coming in for M.I.S weekend, Faster Horses things like that. It kind of brings a little bit more crowds through the village of Hanover.”
Hours of operation are Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Cost is $8 for children between 3 and 12. Children 2 and under are free. Adults are $10. Seniors over 63 are $8.
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