Sunshine, flowers and, of course, furry creatures make kids and adults alike light up. This year winter’s grip was a tight one, increasing our longing to shed the coats and head outside. In early April, I hopped on the Amtrak to Chicago, to check out the Lincoln Park Zoo.
Founded in 1868, this is one of the oldest zoos in the nation. Set against the Chicago skyline, the zoo inhabits 35 acres and offers anything from farm animals in the farm-in-zoo section to reptiles to massive mammals. My friend Linda Spanberger told me about the beauty of the new Nature Boardwalk. “Here in the city, now everyone can enjoy the new, natural ecosystem that is a haven for native birds, frogs, fish, turtles, insects and more,” she told me.
I enjoyed the artwork incorporated into the zoo, whether as a free-standing structure, or part of the gated entrance. On our visit, some of our favorites were the playful Malayan sun bear lying on his back enjoying a snack and the sunning African lions that live in the Kovler Lion House, built in 1912.
Part of the fun of a visit to the zoo is seeing animals I never knew existed and learning about their habitat. This makes the stop both an educational trip as well as an interesting one. Admission is free and the zoo is open every day of the year. Go to www.lpzoo.org for more information to plan your visit.
We included the lovely Lincoln Park Conservatory in our trip. Within walking distance of the zoo, the conservatory is filled with lush tropical plants. The greenhouse is divided into four areas: the Palm House, the Fernery, the Orchid House and the Show House. The colorful background makes for a great family photo op. Open Monday through Sunday, the conservatory hours are 9-5. Admission is free.
The only disappointment at the Lincoln Park Zoo was that the penguin and seabird building was closed. “I love the penguins,” Linda said.
To rectify this, do what I did and head south to the St. Louis Zoo! The zoo has a new Sea Lion Sound which has been combined with the popular Sea Lion Basin and Sea Lion Show. Set on 1.5 acres, the new exhibit offers visitors a walk through an underwater tunnel into the sea lions’ habitat to see the animals swimming all around them. According to zoo officials, “This $18 million, 1.5-acre exhibit offers a naturalistic setting for the animals in a landscape inspired by the Pacific Northwest coast.”
Along with a couple other women from the Midwest, we swerved through visiting schoolchildren to make our way to watch the puffin and penguin feeding and laughed as the small birds hopped and waddled their way into strategic positions to be first in line.
The St. Louis Zoo offers more than 800 species, represented on 90 beautifully landscaped acres. The zoo is located in the historic Forest Park, which is filled with a variety of stops that can keep you busy all day or weekend. Admission to the zoo is free, with a charge for some of the shows and attractions. If you have kids age eight or older there is a cool-sounding background tour! Check out this website http://www.stlzoo.org/visit/hourspricesdirections for more information.
While in St. Louis, still longing for nature in a cultured setting, I headed for the Missouri Botanical Gardens. Set on 79 acres, the Missouri Botanical Garden was founded in 1859, making it the nation’s oldest botanical garden in continuous operation. This year at the garden they are celebrating the International Year of Food.
Kemper Center offers assistance to home gardeners. They can come and see the demonstration garden and even call the plant hotline for assistance. There are historic aspects in the garden like the 1904 World’s Fair lantern. There are spiritual links as well, like the zigzag bridge in the Japanese garden where, they say, if you walk a zigzag path, the evil spirits can’t catch you.
There is also a new Bavarian garden under development. There is an array of activities always taking place at the garden. My kids always enjoyed the freedom of the open spaces, the fountains and the chance to stretch out their legs in a new place. I was again taken with the combination of color and art. With sculptures, bridges and fountains, there is something to see in every direction. There is a fee for admission and if you choose, tours are offered daily. Log onto http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/visit.aspx to learn more.
For the first time, I visited the magical Butterfly House which is also part of the Missouri Botanical Gardens. Located in Faust Park in Chesterfield, Mo., the Butterfly House open in 1998. The Butterfly House is a free-standing butterfly conservatory. Tad Wankaski, one of the staff entomologists, showed us the variety of bugs and even demonstrated the creepy crawly cockroaches. My son when he was young would have been crazy about those.
Along with the insect and educational display area, the tropical conservatory was magical. In this area nearly 2,000 tropical butterflies are in free flight. As many as 80 butterfly species and 150 tropical plant species are exhibited. The website http://tinyurl.com/m2z7au7 offers details of the cost and hours.
A short walk from the Butterfly House was another first visit for me, the St. Louis Carousel. Also part of Faust Park, this carousel has more than 60 hand-carved horses and deer. Built in 1920 by the Dentzel Company of Philadelphia, the carousel became part of an amusement park that was originally located in Forest Park.
When the park was destroyed by fire, the carousel was the only thing left standing. The carousel was then purchased by a St. Louis native and preserved. The carousel operated for several years as part of Sylvan Springs. In 1980 the carousel arrived at its current location and is operated by the Faust Cultural Heritage Foundation. The nonprofit organization has saved this lovely historic carousel and it remains open for riders to see and enjoy. This was one of my favorite stops and is a great place for kids of all ages to enjoy for only $2 a ride. Go to http://www.stlouisco.com/ParksandRecreation/ChildrensFun/StLouisCarouselatFaustPark for details about your visit.
Cindy Ladage is a freelance writer who lives on a farm outside of Virden. This past January, Cindy and Jane Aumann completed their third children’s book, My Name is Huber, a Tractor’s Story.