Great New England Zoos, Bar None!
York Wild Kingdom Zoo, York Beach, Maine (photo by Eric H.)
Article and photo by Eric H.
I love going to the zoo. Growing up in New England and visiting, most prominently, the old Stoneham Zoo (before it became the Stone Zoo) in Stoneham, Mass., and the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston, Mass., evokes memories of a carefree, fun, entertaining and educational summer all rolled up into one family field trip. It's almost like visiting the zoo was a rite of passage into an official New England summer school vacation.
Going to the zoo in the summer does seem like part of our DNA, as if we were inherently wired to enjoy the animal displays and exhibits. There's indeed a timeless and joyful quality to this wonderful type of tourist attraction.
Many 21st century zoos in New England have either maintained their excellence or significantly improved what was already a good thing -- here are some of our personal favorites:
Southwick's Zoo, Mendon, Mass. What was a working farm in 1803 and a very mediocre zoo for many years during our youth has turned into, arguably, the best of its kind in New England. With over 500 animals, 100 different species and a dedication to preservation and conservation of all animals, Southwick's Zoo is beautiful-looking, well-taken care of, and, ultimately, a first-class zoo destination. You'll see familiar animals such as giraffes, lions, tigers, monkeys and kangaroos along with lesser known animals like a pygmy goat, ankole bulls and Nilgai antelope. An extensive array of birds and reptiles will satisfy fans of those species. Also features some animal shows, a "rides" section (elephants, camels, ponies), great snack bars, and a limited amusement section. What really brought Southwick's "over the top," however, was the 2008 addition of the 15-minute Skyfari Sky Ride -- this gondola ride takes you on a tour of the zoo from 30 ft. up in the air.
What was once childhood conversation about the disappointment of Southwick's has transformed into "Can't say enough good things about this zoo!" Southwick's Zoo
2 Southwick St., Mendon, Mass., Tel.: 508-883-9182
Outside MA 1-800-258-9182
Roger Williams Park Zoo, Providence, R.I. The 430-acre Roger Williams Park Zoo features around 160 species of 900 animals -- as well as a children's farmyard, carousel and playground -- in an exceptionally well-maintained, landscaped facility in one of New England's great cities. Exhibits includes the "Fabric of Africa" safari with animals indigenous to the area; "North America," highlighting creatures of our land; "Tropical America," a dense, lush “rain forest” featuring a canopy sky-walk; Australasia, focusing on creatues in the land "down under"; the Marco Polo Trail centering on animals that explorer Marco Polo might have found back in the day; and the Feinstein
Junior Scholar Wetlands Trail -- a quarter-mile stroll through "Rhode Island's most endangered habitat. This includes great blue herons, Canada geese, wood ducks and turtles.
The settings at the Roger Williams Zoo are a far cry from the institutionalized tight quarter, "unhappy animal" displays from when we grew up in the 1960s and 70s. As great as the zoo has been in past generations, Roger Williams has undergone $35 million in capital improvements, including "a fully improved Africa exhibit that features an outdoor elephant yard twice as big as the old one, with an immersion pool for bathing; a Children's Zoo with hands-on educational fun and an accessible tree house; a new veterinary hospital for top-notch health care of the zoo's animal collection; plus, an all new North American Trail with the return of Polar Bears!"
We strongly recommend keeping up todate with the zoo's ambitious renovations and revitalization by checking back frequently at the Roger Williams Zoo web site.
York Wild Kingdom, York Beach, Maine , Surprisingly amongst the best zoos in New England, along with an impressive amusement park -- and the beautiful ocean at Short Sands Beach just a short walk away. How can you go wrong here? Lions, tigers and bears mix with some more unusual animals like the two toed sloth, Patagonian Cavy, Capybaras, African Crested Porcupine and Patas Monkey -- as well as an terrific aviary with a great variety of birds. Amusements feature a merry-go-round, 90 ft. slide, ferris wheel, bumper cars and boats, a haunted house, miniature golf, batting cages, boat rides, and arcade games. What could have been a zoo created as an afterthought to the amusement park is, in reality, an animal destination that holds up quite well on its own. You could visit the zoo and not the amusement park, and still have a great time. We recommend, visiting both, however! York Wild Kingdom Zoo and Fun Park, 1 Railroad Ave. York, Maine Tel. 207-363-4911
Capron Zoo, Attleboro, Mass. Sometimes the best things come in small packages. While many haven't heard of the Capron Zoo, this compact but thoroughly entertaining and educational zoo has been a staple in the heart of revitalized Attleboro, Mass (near Providence, R.I.) for the past 60 years. With a clean environment and a set-up that allows animals to roam more than in a typically larger zoo, Capron's spacious displays bely the limited square footage of the zoo -- you feel like the place is much bigger than it is. Some display highlights: The African lion, North American river otters, snow leopards, sloth bears, Japanese macaques, meerkats, red kangaroos, red-crowned cranes and a great Rain Forest exhibit. The price is right as non-Attleboro adults can get in for $7.00, seniors $4.75 and children for $5.50 (under three are admitted free). The Capron Park Zoo is a real gem! Capron Park Zoo, 201 County St., Attleboro, Mass. Tel. 508-222-6202
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