When entertaining out-of-town visitors from late spring to early fall, one stop is always on our list: The Columbian Park Zoo in Lafayette.
Founded in 1908 — and featuring foxes, pelicans, deer, lynx, prairie dogs, wolves and what I hope was a scent-proof habitat for skunks — the Columbian Park Zoo closed for a major mid-2000s renovation and reopened in 2007.
It’s a fun, free way for families to observe and learn about exotic animals close to home, without long drives or lines. (Consider dropping what you can in the donation box, though, and support the zoo’s plans to expand.)
Open from late April to mid-October, this six-acre spot is a community gem.
By the time this article runs, opening day will be just a couple weeks away. Here are a handful of exhibits I’m looking forward to seeing again this season and what I recommend you check out, too
- For me, the zoo’s centerpiece is its Australia area, with emu, kookaburra, cockatoo and even singing dogs (found at only a dozen U.S. zoos). Its main attraction, though, is the Wallaby Walkabout — a path along which pouched marsupials proudly prance and gracefully bounce. Be sure to look closely at those pouches to spot the baby wallabies hitching a ride.
- The Columbian Park Zoo boasts a kaleidoscopic collection of butterflies in its Butterfly Garden Party area — up to 24 unique species.
- The marvel of the Galapagos Tortoise, an endangered species that often lives for 150 years. (Yes, that’s a century … and a half.)
- The Family Farm area, at which you may (like me) enjoy pretending the llama and miniature horse are descendants of the animals who played Tina in “Napoleon Dynamite” and Li’l Sebastian on “Parks and Recreation.”
That’s just a sampling from a bevy of birds and menagerie of mammals at the Columbian Park Zoo, which also incorporates some beautiful sculptures in its entry plaza and throughout the grounds. (Just remember basic zoo rules: Don’t be too loud, stay on paths, be courteous, don’t feed animals and clean up after yourself.)
The Columbian Park Zoo also offers a number of educational classes and volunteer opportunities for all ages — including a whole new slew of family and youth programs from which to choose in 2017.
Families can also choose from a number of special events in summer — including movie nights, pajama parties, a 5K, ice cream safari — and fall, including an overnight opportunity in late September and October’s popular three-night, Halloween-themed Boo at the Zoo.
If you go
- Columbian Park Zoo
1915 Scott St.
- (765) 807-1540
Opens for the Season on Saturday, April 22
- 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, Saturday, April 22 through Friday, May 26
- 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, Saturday, May 27 through mid-August
- 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, mid-August through Saturday, Oct. 14
Free, but donations accepted