In less than 18 months, the Lincoln Children’s Zoo, one of the few national award winning zoos in the country and one of the top ten zoos for Children named by Parent Magazine, will be celebrating their half century mark. A magical place for children and a family destination envisioned by Arnott Folsom way back in 1959 in which he wanted all children and adults to be able to interact with nature. And to this day, the zoo perpetuates that dream of Mr. Folsom by continuing to foster that amazing educational atmosphere that encourages kids of all ages to interact firsthand with their furry, scaly, and grassy friends. There’s already an ample, diverse group of animals which includes the rare Humboldt penguins – the zoo is one of only 16 zoos nationwide to feature the warm-climate tuxedoed birds, and the mischievous squirrel monkeys.
This wonderland has truly and positively impacted generations of families in the community. Lincoln Children’s Zoo (called Folsom Children’s Zoo & Botanical Gardens between 1979 and 2006) is home to over 350 animals, more than 40 of which are endangered which includes the rare Humboldt penguins, Amur leopards, Dromedary camels, river otters, eagles, crocodiles, lemurs and several species of primates. One-third of the animals are threatened or endangered species. It is the home to the incredibly rare Matschie’s tree kangaroo. It is a must to visit The Hive and Critter Encounter to experience firsthand interaction with living things. Watch as butterflies and moths emerge from their cocoon state in the Butterfly Pavilion, open June-Sep. Botanical gardens are woven among all the exhibits and feature annuals, perennials, herbs and 50 types of trees. Close to 200,000 people attended the Zoo in 2012, making it the third most attended arts and science attraction in Nebraska. To give you an idea of how great of an achievement that is, Lincoln’s present population is a little over 265,000.
-“If my Grandfather was alive today to visit the zoo, he would be very impressed with how the zoo has evolved. Educating children about animals and nature was very important to him and now there is a “High School at the Zoo” and summer classes for children. The animal exhibits are wonderful and the grounds are beautiful. Grandfather would find Stego now towering over an area for digging, next to playground equipment, around the corner from a giant sandbox and a rope wall to climb like the monkeys, all areas where children love to spend time. It is a zoo for children and a place that they love”, as told by Mr. Folsom’s granddaughter, Sue Brouse.
We recently had the opportunity to visit this magical little forest in the heart of the capital of Nebraska and spent a few hours interacting with many animals, feeding the goats and llamas and peacocks and the 2 dromedary camels and our 3 year old son had a blast riding the ponies, experiencing ‘first hand’ the flying squirrel, petting the snakes and lizards, watching the penguins play like kids themselves, and of course, riding the iconic “Choo-Choo” train around the entire property. Today, this train is operated by dedicated volunteers who work each day to ensure the train runs whenever the zoo is open.
In 2001, the Butterfly Pavilion opened and the zoo started planning for Antelope Triangle Park. The 38 year old train was replaced in 2002 by the new Z.O.&O. Railroad. “Opening the Gates”, a new program that provides guided tours in 10 languages, was also launched.
The 2003 season opened with a new home for the Zoo’s bald eagles and a new children’s play area, and Debrazza’s monkeys were introduced to the zoo. Then in 2004, the new 4,000 square feet Camelot Commons Education Center was opened, and introduced pot-bellied sea horses and a harbor seal to the zoo.
In 2005 the “Dromedary Dock” was introduced… a feeding station for camels, thus allowing the visitors to feed these ‘one-hump’ camels, and the size of the diet kitchen was tripled. In 2006, the zoo was renamed back to its original name and the current zoo logo was created. Another renovation of the Stegosaurus Fountain in 2008 turned it into Stego’s Big Dig, and Laura’s Butterfly Pavilion opened as a permanent home for the butterflies.
Recently, the zoo announced a partnership with the Git-R-Done Foundation and Larry the Cable Guy. The project, called Zoofari with Larry the Cable Guy, will give hundreds of children’s hospitals and rehabilitation centers across the nation the chance to bring the zoo to their patients. Zoofari with Larry the Cable Guy will feature a series of fun and educational videos for children who can’t visit a zoo themselves. Filmed on location at Lincoln Children’s Zoo, the Zoofari videos feature Larry the Cable Guy interacting with zookeepers and animals.
“Partnering with Lincoln Children’s Zoo on Zoofari is a unique way to bring the experience of going to a Zoo to children who don’t have the opportunity to visit themselves,” said Larry the Cable Guy. “Through the Git-R-Done Foundation, we’re proud to support children’s hospitals and give kids this interactive, educational experience.”
The videos will also be shown at Zoofari Stations inside the Zoo. These stations will enhance all guests’ experiences – children and adults alike – by providing an in-depth learning experience for everyone. “The Zoofari videos will get all children more excited about animals, science and nature,” explained president and CEO John Chapo. “Whether the children are in hospitals or can actually visit Lincoln Children’s Zoo, the new Zoofari series will entertain and enhance the entire zoo experience for thousands of children.”