In smaller metropolitan areas like Des Moines, entertainment can be hard to find, especially for kids. The smaller population generally means fewer cultural opportunities. Though this can sometimes be a frustrating truth for those of us who live here, there are some excellent options to keep the little ones entertained while getting them out of the house. One such venue is the Blank Park Zoo. Though its small size in relation to bigger zoos in bigger cities restricts its appeal mainly to younger children (up to age 8 or so), it still offers a good variety of animals from several different habitats and locales and gives parents a great alternative to yet another visit to the local park.
Hands down, this honor belongs to the Autrailian Trail exhibit. Usually, the only animals allowed to room free are those found domesticated on farms across the coutnry. But inside the Austrailian Trail area, an entire continent comes to life. Emus, Black Swans, Peacocks, Wallabies and others are allowed to room free inside a large, fenced area. The widing path that guides visitors through the exibit allows each person the chance to see each creature literally face-to-face. For someone who had grown up watching such animals through plexi-glass or from across a large pit, such intimate access took me by surprise. And my 3-year-old daughter loved it. One small warning: Having these animals so close (some of which are very large) can be intimidating for small children, so be wary and stay on the paved path.
Honorable Mention: The Discovery Center and the African Boardwalk
MOST DISSAPOINTING FEATURE:
This dubious distinction belonged to the Dinosaur exhibit displayed in the Zoo Plex during this past summer. Though massive and semi-mobile (They dipped their heads, wagged their tails, and roared), the effect of the animitronics did little to transport anyone into a time of dinosaurs. The main reason for this could be the Zoo Plex itself (merely a bubble-like structure made of white, quilted material) is not a great backdrop for an exhibit meant to highlight the age of dinosaurs. Walking through a vertible who’s who of dinosaurs lost a lot of its luster beneath such a stark-white backdrop. Future displays in this space may work better, but the Dinosaurs felt entirely out of place.
Overall, the Blank Park Zoo is great for small children as its size lends itself to a quick (2-3 hours) visit while still allowing for a good variety of animal viewing. However, older children may get easily bored as walking the relatively smaller park will not take them as long and they may be able to see it all in less than an hour.