Spring-like temperatures in the middle of winter, coupled with a long holiday weekend, sent Fresno-area residents in droves to parks and the Fresno Chaffee Zoo.
Fresno’s high on Monday hit 76 degrees — 14 degrees above normal for mid-February. With many people off work and school for President’s Day, Fresno Chaffee Zoo saw record-setting attendance, while Woodward Park buzzed with activity.
Around 1:30 p.m., Tiffany Moreno, 19, waited at the back of a line that stretched out from the zoo entrance and down the sidewalk. She was there with her boyfriend, friend, godson and 4-month-old daughter. It was her baby’s first time at the zoo, and they decided to go because of the nice weather.
Moreno said she’d never seen the zoo so full.
“I knew there were no kids in school but I didn’t think it would be this packed,” she said.
Neither did zoo staff. Curator Dan Subaitis said Sunday’s attendance of 7,400 people broke the record for any non-event day in zoo history. Last year, 4,700 people went the same day, he said, with temperatures around 70 degrees.
By 2 p.m. Monday, nearly 5,000 people had been at the zoo.
“Just a few years ago, 4,000 people would have been a big day for us,” Subaitis said. He credited the zoo’s improvements, including the national award-winning Sea Lion Cove, and an engaged staff for the increase.
Joseph and Santa Muñoz, ages 69 and 70, were treated to zoo tickets by their son, who had the day off work. The retired couple said the zoo is a lot of fun, but they normally wouldn’t have gone in February.
“It’s usually cold,” said Santa Muñoz, “so this is unusual.”
Across town, Woodward Park hummed with people in motion: Joggers, bikers, equestrians, dog-walkers and sports players.
It looked like an early spring. Butterflies fluttered overhead and birds chirped from the trees. The sun shone heavy and bright.
Erika Rivera, 23, had the day off work and school at Fresno State. She took advantage of the good weather by playing soccer and football with her boyfriend and family.
Rivera said soccer is a good break from the stress of college. Her family usually plays on weekends in their yard but wanted a change of scenery.
“Usually it’s colder,” she said. “Lately the weather has just been weird. We don’t even know anymore what to expect.”
Phong Nguyen, 42, brought his son and wife on a bicycle ride along his usual spot — the Eaton Trail. He took up bike riding three months ago and now hits the trail three times a week.
“I just wanted to exercise,” he said. “For me, it’s hard to go to the gym. It’s just boring instead of outdoor activity.”
Nguyen wanted to enjoy the beautiful day off with his family. His two daughters stayed home, he said, and missed out.
Sabrina Betz, 29, and her friend Alexis Clayton, 27, walked their dogs on the trail.
Betz, a Fresno State graduate, moved back last month with her husband. She said they walk the trail with their dog Maverick, a border collie mix, almost every day.
“We need our exercise,” she said. “And so does he.”