The History of Lake Tobias

The History of Lake Tobias

Since 1965 Lake Tobias Wildlife Park has been fascinating patrons with its wild, exotic animals and adventure-seeking safari tours. The late J.R. Tobias founded the park on the same property where he was born and raised. He and his wife, Pauline, reared their seven children here before his passing in 1996. Mrs. Tobias still resides in the farm house which also serves as the park’s business office.

J.R always had a fascination with animals, especially unusual and exotic ones. He had originally planned to attend college studying animals and agriculture, but in 1943, he decided to join  the military and chose to serve as a Marine. J.R. once commented that his desire to open a wildlife park was actually “just a hobby to fall back on in my retirement”. He also had the unique idea of touring the herds in their natural habitat by transforming school buses into “safari cruisers”. It is an idea that has since been duplicated by others today. The stream-fed lakes located throughout the park were constructed by Mr. Tobias using the heavy equipment he owned for his excavating and grading business. J.R.was self-employed his entire adult life owning several businesses both before and during his years of maintaining Lake Tobias. In addition to the excavating  business, he had also owned a dairy, a cement block manufacturing company and a John Deere farm machinery business, all of which were housed and operated from the family homestead.

During the 2014 season, the park celebrated its 50th season of operation. Improvements and expansions have occurred over the years with the most notable ones taking place within the past ten years. In 2006 the park intensified its transformation of facilities by adding the first of several new additions – custom-designed, expanded habitats for the tigers and black bears. The next expansion occurred in 2008 when the new African lion and baboon facility was constructed.  The facility,  designed by Ern Tobias, General Curator and a park owner, received a Mid Atlantic BX Craftsmanship Award.  One of the major improvements at the park, which received rave reviews from park visitors, was the opening of the custom-designed Reptile and Exotics facility in 2011. Our customer service areas were next with the extensive makeover in 2014 of our food service departments, followed by the relocated and expanded Safari Station which opened in 2015.  A recent addition to the park was the J.R. Tobias Museum and Education Center which opened in 2017 and was awarded the Attraction of the Year by the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Business Bureau.  Additional expansion included the much anticipated giraffe exhibit which opened in 2018 and was enlarged with the completion of the viewing/feeding deck in 2019. More exhibits will be opening in future phases of the park expansion project.

Along with good years, there also have been hard times.  In 1989, a tornado destroyed numerous structures within the park.  Fortunately, all of the animals and their enclosures remained unharmed. However, calamity struck in 1992 with the discovery of bovine (animal) TB in an animal recently acquired by the park.  Some local news media began a frenzy of misinformation resulting in public hysteria when, in fact, the Department of Health never considered the animal TB situation at the park to be a danger to the public nor did they require the park to close at any time. An international expert on bovine TB was consulted and visited the park with the request to use the animals here as an ideal observation site so that more could be learned about this particular animal malady. However, due to the USDA’s regulations, all of the mammals had to be destroyed, including Mr. Tobias’s beloved African lioness.  Lake Tobias worked with the USDA to depopulate the mammals and restocked  the park for the upcoming 1993 season.


The late J. R. Tobias, founder of Lake Tobias Wildlife Park

Before his passing, Mr. Tobias bestowed his hobby-turned -business to his children, many of whom were already managing areas of the park. The unfortunate death in 2010 of the eldest of the seven children, Dee Ann (Tobias) Hoffman, has resulted in the current ownership of the park being the six remaining siblings, three grandsons and a granddaughter. Under their direction, J.R.’s love and interest in animals continues to grow as a self-sustaining, family-owned business that has become a favorite family attraction for over 240,000 park visitors each season. Lake Tobias relies strictly on park revenue for its financial support and does not receive any state or federal funding.

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