Take kids to a zoo and they’ll have fun watching the monkeys play. But let them climb through the treetops pretending they’re monkeys and it’s even better.
And my kids definitely like the new Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo at Lincoln Park Zoo. The new children’s zoo, located just south of the main entrance on Stockton Drive, is the new home of the bears, otters, wolves and beavers. The large, glassed-in outdoor habitats make it easier for little ones to see the animals, but the animals weren’t all that interested in being seen on the hot July day we visited. So most of the kids headed inside the air-conditioned pavilion that dominates the children’s zoo.
The Polk Bros. Treetop Canopy Climbing Adventure, “At Home in the Woods,” is the indoor centerpiece. It soars 20 feet into the air with curved pieces of padded plywood. Since it is enclosed by netting, kids can slither under, climb over and crawl around.
I took three kids, ages 9 to 12. Their eyes lit up when they saw the structure and they ran to get in line. After their first crawl through, they complained of rug burns on their knees from the padding, but they were back in line before I even had a chance to look at their knees.
There are a few rules for climbing— wait your turn and start at the beginning. A worker warns parents of children under 5: If the kids get scared or stuck, it’s the parents, not the workers, who will be going in to rescue them. Fortunately, she says, the structure has been tested by a zoo employee, who is over 6 feet tall and weighs more than 200 pounds. He still managed to squeeze through the small spaces.
While the bigger kids climb, toddlers can dress up as a bear, try on a turtle shell or build a beaver dam at the water table. During our visit, my kids spent time peering through the windows into the worlds of beavers and otters, although we were disappointed to find the otters napping. And the beavers were nowhere to be found.
Once they had worn themselves out in the treetops, the kids headed outside to cool off in the fountain. (Consider bringing a second set of clothes or letting the kids wear their swimsuits. They will get soaked.)
Lincoln Park Zoo, at 2001 N. Clark St. in Chicago, is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the summer and is one of the country’s last free zoos. But if you can’t find free parking on Stockton Drive, bring cash for parking. The former flat-rate fee for the Cannon Drive lot is now $22 for five hours, with discounts for zoo members. For information, call (312) 742-2000 or visit www.lpzoo.org. Cindy Richards