Circle G Ranch
Circle G Ranch is a private, licensed USDA facility. We take pride
in caring and maintaining the most natural environment to over 500 of our
indigenous and exotic animals. We dedicate our lives to wildlife
conservation giving our animals over 100 acres to run freely with as much
enrichment mother nature has intended. Our goal is to share our
knowledge and love for animals with the hope of educating our future
generations about their importance, as well as, providing a unique and
memorable experience for your family and friends.
CGR lays nestled at the foothills of Gatlinburg's Great Smoky Mountains
and Pigeon Forge in charming Straw Plains, Tennessee and just 15 minutes
from Knoxville. We have happily catered to local families on a weekend
outing and vacationers as far as Australia. We have been delighted in
being host to Kentucky Conservationist Group, Boys & Girls Scouts, Boys &
Girls Clubs, Yoke Youth Ministries, Vacation Bible Schools and various
Senior's Assisted Living field trips.
In the Beginning:
It all started with
one guy and one camel. The relationship between man and animal has always
been a fascination for many, but a way of life for few. Matt purchased his first
camel by the name of Abdul in the summer 1993. This was beginning of a
friendship that is still thriving to this very day. Matt began giving camel
rides at the Knoxville Zoo in 1996 up until the present day and where he met
his wife Christy. Matt had always kept a
collection of exotic and farm animals for his many jobs like: Live
Nativities, Camel Rides and animals for the Dixie Stampede’s Christmas
show(s) from 1996-2008. Needless to say, their animal family grew to a
whooping 500 in number.
The Growing Years:
In 2000 we bought 64 acres that would soon be called our
zoo. In 2002 we broke ground and began clearing woods to make the roads on
which our visitors drive today. We cleared the woods, made the roads, built
the barns, strung 10,000+ feet of 8ft. fence all by ourselves with 2 of our
staff and NO outside help. In 2002, we were ready for our first camel trek
customer. At this time we were only open for our camel treks because our
roads were only useful for trail riding and not a Cadillac.
Finally, in 2005, we purchased 40 additional acres, several species
of deer and antelope and put the “finishing touches” on our roads, and
became an “Opened Drive Thru Zoo”.
16 years later, 500 animals, one marriage, and a son we named Cash (now five years old and a ‘little rancher’ with big ideas just like his
mommy & daddy), the Michel family has opened their ranch up to the public as
a drive through zoo along with camel treks and WILD truck safari tours. We
have always shared visions that include animals. Christy has always said that
could never imagine living with her husband if he didn’t get to wake up and
go outside to play with the camel herd. This would have been like putting Steve
Irwin behind a desk for 12 hours a day. Growing and adapting at the Circle G
Ranch is mandatory of sorts for human and non-human residents.
Where we're going:
The Circle G Ranch and staff are pleased that each and everyone of us get to
wake up and go to a job that is rewarding, selfless, and don’t forget, we
absolutely love it. We hope in the future that we will be able to give the
public and chance to view giraffe and elephants at our place, but it in the
meantime, come on out and enjoy a most unforgettable
experiences between you and our animals.
AKA “Gumby” This is where the G comes from in The
Circle “G” Ranch. Matt was born and raised in northern
and has been working with exotic animals since 1988. That’s over 20
year’s experience!! His passion for wildlife and the natural world
shows in his work……. Friends say that Matt should have been born 100
years ago. He is just a simple man that demands the perfect basics
out of every day living. People from all over the country send their
camels to Matt to receive training for trail riding, camel rides and
just basic knowledge that all animals need. Matt is our instructor
here at our ‘School for Camels’. His
relationship with these highly misunderstood “Ships of the Desert”
is quite extraordinary to observe and to be coupled with. Matt is
our team leader and senior camel guy who has been training camels
since 1994. He works sun up to well after sundown doing exactly what
he loves most… working outdoors,
working with animals and doing it all with his family by his
side. Matt is a multi-talented idealist, highly driven individual,
mechanically inclined, compassionate and an artist who turns our
wild animal park in to a living, breathing, colorful canvas. Matt is
the backbone and the boss man of The Circle G operation.
Behind every great organization is one person who brings a
passion for what they do to the table and "makes it work".
Christy is that person. Born and raised in middle Georgia,
Christy developed her first taste of the animal world chasing and
raising tadpoles to her "one of a kind" (and extremely lucky)
lizard, Nigel at the age of 7! Moving to Arizona after high school
took her down the path to pursuing a degree in Veterinary Medicine.
On a break and visiting family, she found her home after deciding to
take a summer job with the camel rides at the Knoxville Zoo in 1998.
Since then, she has worked tirelessly next to her husband Matt to
make the Circle G Ranch what it is today. She is well known to
whip up a mean meal for the "boys", raise a bottle baby that
otherwise wouldn't make it, and crunching numbers. Known as
"Ma" to the staff, she balances being a mother, wife and business
owner with pride and ease. Christy is truly one of kind and it
shows in every aspect of everyday business at the Circle G.
Raymond is one of a kind and we all here
at CGR truly adore him
Born and raised in Tennessee near Grainger County, Raymond has has
has proven to be such an asset and extremely important person to the
CGR team. He has a tremendous amount of people skills and
anyone that visits our park leaves knowing Raymond ("Everybody loves
Raymond")! As an employee, he is one person here at the ranch you can always count on
and brings an amazing work ethic to our gates & visitors daily. All
members of the CGR team realize each and every single day just how
fortunate we are to stand beside Raymond 5 days a week. If you book
a safari truck tour Monday – Friday… your driver will most
definitely be our guy Raymond. As a father, grandfather - he
100% loves children, animals and thrives on talking to our visitors
giving them the grand tour. The CGR is his home away from home and
there are many days you will find him carrying a baby or toddler
around our petting zoo that belongs to a visitor. He is never late
to work; he is always here and has never called in sick. Even though
he is his 70’s, Raymond can still keep up with us little
“grasshoppers” around here.
Wendi has been with the Circle G Ranch since 2002.
She is our “electronically inclined mind” behind the scenes and she
is also Christy’s sister. She is the designer of our brochures, rack
cards and if you are reading this website…well, she does that too.
We would not be where we are today if Wendi had not created and
managed to debut our original website in 2005. She is the one in
control of giving the CGR a sort of “techie” facelift on a regular
basis. Our keeper’s and staff are somewhat computer savvy but not
enough to build a website. We take care of the animals and Wendi
keeps us current with the world. We would be lost without her. I
mean, can you imagine a bunch of zoo keeper’s huddled around a
computer trying to straighten out a virus that you can’t treat with
antibiotics? WENDI??? , HELP ??? I think we’ll keep her.
We look forward to meeting you!