Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Go Wild at the Zoo's New Play Park; Activity Zone Designed for Toddlers through Third-Graders

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Go Wild at the Zoo's New Play Park; Activity Zone Designed for Toddlers through Third-Graders

Article excerpt

Byline: ROGER BULL

The zoo has always been a place to look. Now, it's also a place to play.

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens' newest addition, appropriately call Play Park, is a $6.7 million, 2.5-acre area geared toward children. It opens today (at least part of it does) with an official ribbon cutting, and the rest of the weekend will feature jugglers, mimes and clowns.

Last weekend, zoo members were able to tour it, but nothing was finished enough to play on. Zoo officials have been going back and forth about what would be ready this weekend. The latest word is that about half of it will be finished and open, and they're calling it a "phase one opening."

There is no age or size limit, except for a few places where some people simply won't fit. But Dennis Pate, the zoo's executive director, said Play Park was designed for toddlers through third-graders, "so we're not saying it's great for 13-year-olds."

The centerpiece is the spray zone, a 4,000-square-foot area where water will squirt from concrete dolphins, whales, sea turtles and manatees. There will be no standing water, nothing to swim in, just lots of shooting water to soak anyone who ventures into the circle of spray.

Additions like the Play Park have become the thing to do the last couple of years. The National Zoo in Washington opened Kids Farm, which includes its first petting zoo, playground equipment and a giant rubber pizza to crawl on. The Florida Aquarium in Tampa's first expansion in it 10-year history was Explore a Shore, a 2.2-acre water park and play area complete with a two-story pirate ship and water slide.

"The whole thing is based on play," Pate said. "But play with a second purpose in mind. The play makes them come back. But we know what we want kids to do and learn in each of these areas."

He said the children won't be merely swinging on rope vines, but learning empathy for the squirrel monkey and seeing things from a different point of view. …

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