Before Gregg Dancho became director, Bridgeport’s Beardsley Zoo, now formally called Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, was not nationally accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. In 1983, he set upon an ambitious process to transform a sleepy and stuffy place into a regional destination backed by new exhibits, habitat upgrades, public events, inviting landscapes and the signature carousel building showcasing restored artifacts from the former Pleasure Beach Carousel, a fabulous place for parties, rentals and weddings.
The zoo, under Gregg’s leadership, won accreditation and is a participant in the AZA Species Survival Plan.
Gregg also reshaped the zoo into a themed journey focused on education of North and South American species, save for the tiger exhibit, arguably the zoo’s biggest draw. When you visit the tigers, please be mindful of the cats’ spray zone!
Gregg is our latest chat celebrating Bridgeport’s Bicentennial. The zoo celebrates its centennial in 2022.
Q. What is your first memory of Bridgeport?
A. Interestingly enough, my first memories of Bridgeport are going to the zoo with my family. We had nine all together and went to the zoo after Sunday Mass. We would spend time walking around, going to the “monkey house,” playing on the old playground equipment and rolling down a hill that is now our farm area. We would then go feed the ducks, not recommended these days, and then go home. A fond memory of my dad trying to touch the monkeys, again not allowed these days.
Q. What are your ties to Bpt., and what do you do, either work or volunteer work, that benefits the city and its residents?
A. I was born in Bridgeport and my grandparents lived in the “Treeland” area so we spent a great deal of time there. I began volunteering at the Zoo in my junior year of high school at Bunnell in 1975. I began full time at the Zoo in 1980 and became acting director of the Zoo in 1983. We have spent over 40 years with our staff making the Zoo an educational, conservation and a great experience for Bridgeport and the entire State of Connecticut. I have served as chair of the Bridgeport Chamber of Commerce, also on its Executive Committee, served on the Governors Tourism Council and now back on it again this year. Served on the Regional Tourism Council and now chair the Western Connecticut Tourism District. I give many talks to Service Organizations, was a member of the Bridgeport CEDS work and have been on the advisory board of Housatonic Community College.
Q. What do you like best about Bridgeport?
A. Its people, many of Bridgeport’s residents care deeply about the city and its many wonderful areas.
Q. Where is your favorite spot in the city to visit and why?
A. I really enjoy many of the areas of the city that embrace the environment. We monitor the Fish Ladder on the Bunnell Pond Dam every spring and watch the return of the herring and alewives, over 10K last year. This has made the Pequonnock River a very important area for many types of animals, night herons, Osprey, eagles and even otters!!! Beardsley Park and the Pequonnock River have become an oasis for wildlife. I also enjoy going to Pleasure Beach. It’s another area where humans and wildlife each have a place to enjoy!
Q. What’s your favorite Bridgeport eatery and what do you like there?
A. The city has so many great places to eat that it is very hard to pick one!!! Each neighborhood has a “hidden” eatery that would satisfy many foodies! Have been going to Taco Loco for many many years! Food is always great and has very good ambience! The chimichanga is my go-to dish!
Q Where do you see the city going?
A. Hard question, the City has made many improvements over the years, a more vibrant downtown seems to be on the verge of moving forward, COVID pending.
Q. If you had a magic wand and could make a miracle happen for the city, what would it be?
A. Many of the non-profit attractions have been working for many years to survive and thrive. These institutions have made great contributions to the City. More dollars and attention is needed from Hartford to Bridgeport to support these groups and with that more will come to the area.