HOLTSVILLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Some Long Island residents are waging an online battle to keep their only free zoo open.

The Holtsville Wildlife and Ecology Center has been a treasure for decades. The little oasis with nature trails, a greenhouse that provides flowers for local roads and a kid’s safety school also has a special zoo that is home to 100 handicapped animals.

Best of all, said residents, is the fact that it’s free to visit.

However, Brookhaven officials said it costs taxpayers $900,000 to keep open and since the town is $10 million in the red it is slated for closure.

“I just can’t believe that companies wouldn’t step in, and even I know people would donate more,” Dena Alvich, of Lake Grove, told CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff.

“Pick on someone your own size, don’t pick on children. This is where they grow up in a different atmosphere than in an atmosphere of cement and asphalt,” said Ecology Center volunteer Wayne Carrington.

The battle lines have been drawn on the Internet. An online petition to save the center has more than 13,000 signatures and a Facebook page has more than 7,000 likes.

There’s also a lobbying effort from officials who run the center and the organization that donates all the animals’ food and care.

“It is the heart and soul of our department and we are totally against closing it,” Brookhaven Highway Superintendent John Rouse said.

“Let’s be honest — for less than $2 a household in Brookhaven, the place is more than worth it,” said Jim LaCarrubba of Brookhaven Wildlife Inc.

Many said they’d pay an entry fee if it would keep the center open.

Town officials said the budget cuts are preliminary and there will be a public hearing on Nov., 8 followed by a vote a week later.

If the town board votes to close the center, the animals would all have to be relocated by the 1st of the year.

A rally to save the center is slated for Sept. 30.

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