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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Things We Love About Wichita: The Zoo

We moved to Wichita from the Kansas City area 11 years ago. This summer, we’ll be saying goodbye to the plains and returning to the Missouri hills and rivers. When we arrived in South-central Kansas, we knew no one and had never really spent any time here.

So as our time draws to a close, I’m planning to write a few blogs about some of the things/people/places/whatevers that we love about Wichita and the surrounding area. First up: The
Sedgwick County Zoo.

One of the “best kept secrets” in Kansas that’s not that secret anymore is the Sedgwick County Zoo. When we announced we were moving to Wichita, anyone who had ever spent time here said, “The Zoo is great! You’ll love it….” Frankly, my St. Louis native husband, who rightly judges all zoo experiences against his hometown’s, was a bit dubious. He didn’t hold high hopes for a “small/large city” like Wichita.

But we were wrong. Thankfully, happily very wrong. We came to town in February of 2004 to close on our house with our three year old twins and knew we’d need something to do all day besides sitting around a hotel room. It was one of those gloriously warm February days we occasionally get here in the Midwest. We mentioned at our closing that we were thinking about heading to the zoo and, in typical Wichita fashion (see future post), multiple people whipped out free or reduced zoo passes and handed them over. “Oh! Yes, you have to go! It’s the best…” they all said.
Okay. Okay, people. You’re proud of your zoo. We get it. We loaded up the kids, tried to keep our derisive thoughts to ourselves, and headed down the street. Yes, I said, “down the street.” The zoo was just a few miles from our new house and all the local businesses we’d be frequenting.
We were immediately impressed.
Our first visit to the Sedgwick County Zoo, February 2004
(my kids are taller than me now, but not taller than the giraffes - yet!)
As per Wichita, everyone we encountered was uber-friendly. The animals were all up-close and personal and there were so many things for three year olds to touch, see, smell, hear, eat… It was a toddler-palooza. It was safe and clean and we knew it was for us. So, on our way out, we bought a family pass that included an option to bring along two guests. We knew it would be our home away from home in our new hometown.
And that it has been. We wore those passes flat out.
The Farm was a fun place to pick up some goat slobber on your way to lunch.

On hot days, we considered swimming with the hippos.



Our friends, Dave and Jamie, visited us before they got married.
 I'm sure spending time at the Zoo with preschoolers was an inspiration.
Anyone who came to visit us had to schedule time to go to the zoo with us and when they returned, they usually asked to go again.

Our cousins, Addisyn and Kerenza, visited us from Oklahoma. (Twins are a thing in our family.)

We had favorite exhibits and favorite animals (we’re looking at you, Gorillas), but we always learned something and saw something new each time.
How many hours have we spent with these guys? Even though the boys have grown, the big fellas are still big!
One of our favorite summertime activities was to go through the Spangles drive through, pick up breakfast, and hit the zoo as soon as it opened at 8am. We’d find a table, enjoy an al fresco dining experience, and then go to as many exhibits as possible before the heat of the day drove us home to air conditioning.
It was a fun way to start the day.
We didn’t renew our passes this year. We knew we were leaving and 14 year olds just don’t get as big a kick out of lions, tigers, and bears that three year olds do.
One of our last trips with a few friends from school. The tweens and teenagers fell asleep on the tram ride.
They woke up as soon as I told them it was time for lunch.
I cleaned out my wallet recently and shredded the expired pass. It was like saying goodbye to an old friend who had welcomed you into her home just when you needed it most. Because, honestly, that’s what the Sedgwick County Zoo was for us: it was like God said, “See. You’re going to survive and thrive. I made this place just for you.”