Like many parents of young children in Southeast Michigan, I have lost count on how many times we have been to the Detroit Zoo. Armed with a reasonably-priced annual membership, you don’t feel guilty going for an hour or only going to the playground. And once you figure out that using the members’ entrance eliminates the need to carry your over-tired, crying children on the “screaming mile”–the stretch from the fountain to the main exit–you go to the Detroit Zoo even more.
Yet I must admit, the Detroit Zoo is not the first place that comes to my mind when we are looking for something to do in the winter. When we’re not cuddled up inside, we’re likely to either go sledding or find a warm indoor activity. That changed this year when we decided to check out the Detroit Zoo’s Wild Winter Weekends series that runs for one weekend in January, February and March.
The January event kicked off the series with a focus on the Arctic. Our first stop was the Ford Education Center. Following the path to the building, we watched artists touch up a set of amazing ice carvings. Inside, we warmed up with hands-on activities. Upstairs in this beautiful building, we caught the end of a magic show and then lined up for face painting. Helpful Detroit Zoo volunteers worked with the kids to make fun wintery crafts and take part in games designed to teach them about the zoo’s animals.
Perhaps the best part of the event was seeing the animals that are more adapted to colder temperatures. The polar bears, arctic foxes, snow monkeys, tigers, wolverines, red pandas, Asian wild horses, elks, and bison were more visible than they have been on our warmer visits. Even the animals that are not found in warmer climates were up and moving around and not hiding from the heat in the shade.
As we rounded the corner of the path into the Arctic Ring of Life, we passed a group of adults and teens taking a tour with a zookeeper who was discussing the animals that live in this exhibit–the arctic foxes, seals, and, of course, the polar bears. Zookeeper talks are part of each Wild Winter Weekend. If you would like to join the zookeeper tour, check the Detroit Zoo website for times.
The Detroit Zoo created Wild Winter Weekends 10 years ago as a way to encourage people to visit in the colder months. And with fun to be had, there’s no reason to wait until the weather warms up to make a trip. There are two more weekends in the series that you will want to check out. On February 8 and 9, the theme is “African Adventure,” and will feature stories by Kenyan naturalist and Detroit Zoo Education Specialist David Gakure, African drum lessons, and crafts and games. The March 8 and 9 weekend will feature a “Safari Social” with discounted ice cream and hot cocoa, a winter safari scavenger hunt, face painting and zookeeper talks. The activities are included with admission.
The indoor activities are held in the Ford Education Center from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. And if you’re not already a member, it’s worth signing up so you can park in that member lot, which happens to be right outside the building.
For more information, visit www.detroitzoo.org.