The spray of white gravel is still there in front of the house on Joshua Street. It was put there to make sure the big black bus could be moved for the big reveal on national television. Just as it was a year ago, the sky is gray and the dirt road is muddy and slick.


But a great deal has happened to the Almquist family since they were featured on Extreme Makeover Home Edition.


Before the show came to town, Joel and Chemaine Almquist and their children had lived in a drafty doublewide trailer with no heating or air conditioning, spending their money instead on creating and running the Forever Wild Exotic Animal Sanctuary, where they took in abused and neglected exotic animals, from tigers to alligators.


Volunteers from across Southern California had come together to build the Almquists a new four-bedroom house, improved and enhanced the animal shelters and built a new visitor's center.


And while donations come in every time their episode airs in reruns -- the show is seen in 69 countries with an estimated audience of 1 billion -- ever more animals are dropped off at the shelter. The Almquists now have $8,000 in expenses each month. Admission fees charged to visitors help, assuming the visitors can reach them.


"These last couple of weeks have been killing us," Chemaine Almquist said Tuesday. "We have to close when it rains."


Among the expenses are a new paid 5-member staff alongside the shelter's volunteers.


"We're at that size now where you have to have the reliability of knowing someone's going to be here," said Almquist.


Forever Wild is now home to 25 big cats -- 10 tigers, three cougars, three bobcats, five cervals, two black leopards, a lioness and a Siberian lynx -- along with 10 parrots, 50 venomous reptiles (including cobras and black mambas), a mule dear, four horses, four llamas, eight tortoises, a tarantula, a rabbit, a frog, an iguana and a number of abandoned dogs.


Other than a leaking pipe in the wall of their new house -- which show producers eventually paid for, although the scaffolding and unpainted plaster are still visible in the home's foyer -- and a leaky roof on the visitor's center, the construction and renovations have held up.


"They love the fire hose beds," Almquist said, gesturing to one of the hammocks made from donated fire hoses each great cat's cage received. "They love to lounge on those."


Some of the projects, like molded "stone" stream bank in one cage, haven't stood up quite as well.


"They didn't anticipate the power of a tiger."


The residents have torn the "rock" that covers the stream's drain pump off several times: A 500-pound Siberian Bengal tiger is stronger than a bit of fiberglass scenery.


The publicity generated by the show has also meant clashes with San Bernardino County over permitting and fees: Despite assertions that various fees related to the project would be waived, county officials now want an additional $4,000 in fees from the Almquists.


"With the blessing have come trials," Almquist said. "Let us do what [we] do, and we'll both be out of each others' hair."


Forever Wild Exotic Animal Shelter is located at 8545 Buttemere Road in Phelan and is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from noon to 5 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult admissions start at $8, and children's admission prices start at $4. For more information, call 760-868-2755.


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star