Lincoln Park Zoo: An Urban Oasis, an Educational Gem

You rode the carousel, laughed at the monkeys’ antics and marveled at the majesty of the giraffes.

But did you know that the Lincoln Park Zoo—a local treasure that’s open 365 days a year with free admission—is tops for teaching kids about the natural world?

This year, one of the zoo’s educational highlights, Nature Boardwalk, swings into its second summer. What was once a dilapidated, manmade pond is now home to bluegill, largemouth bass, painted turtles, frogs, dragonflies, butterflies and more. Prairie and wetland vegetation and native wildlife allow visitors to connect to the natural world like never before.

Trees and vegetation provide shade, food and nesting for native and migratory birds such as wood ducks, barn swallows, woodpeckers and the rare black-crowned night heron. A half mile of boardwalk surrounds the pond, providing loads of access to enjoy the natural beauty.

Behind the creation of the $12 million project are many corporate donors and the Women’s Board.

“One of the best things about being involved on the women’s board was finding out the depth of what goes on at the zoo,” says board member Katherine Baldwin of Chicago. She cites Young Researchers as an example of the zoo’s strong educational programming.

Partnering Chicago Public Schools with the zoo, Young Researchers are middle school students who learn techniques for animal behavior research from the zoo’s professional staff. Students picks animals to study and present their findings at the zoo’s Science Celebration at the end of the year.

“It’s like winning the golden ticket for those who are picked to show their findings at the celebration,” Baldwin says. “To have the president of the zoo come and look at their project is huge. I heard a group of girls exclaiming, `The president of the zoo liked my project!’ ”

This summer, Nature Boardwalk educators are hosting family activities that shouldn’t be missed. In “Turtle Tracking,” participants will try out technology to track the movements and locations of painted turtles outfitted with radio transmitters. “Neighborhood Wildlife” shares stories about the critters that visit Nature Boardwalk during the day and night.

On July 8, the Women’s Board will host “Zoo Ball: Hollywood & Vines,” to raise funds to support Nature Boardwalk and educational initiatives at the zoo. For tickets, visit lpzooball.org.

Be a Better Maker: What can you do to help? Visit the Lincoln Park Zoo’s website and you’ll find a number of ways you can make a difference!