Sometimes the best places are discovered by accident.
Last summer, I happened to overhear someone mention a zoo in Gate City. After living away from the area for a while, I was surprised to hear there was a zoo so close and wondered how I had missed that information. With two kids who love visiting the zoo, I was excited to discover I could give them the experience without traveling too far away.
I recently made my first trip this season (after visiting twice last summer) to the Creation Kingdom Zoo in the Snowflake community of Gate City, Va.
My daughters and I enjoy the drive there and know we are getting close when we start seeing all the “snow” related street signs. As we turn on Snowflake Road, and upon entering the zoo entrance, I’m reminded of the movie “We Bought A Zoo” and enjoy the intimate and private setting of the main gate.
The entrance desk is rustic and resembles a hut, which provides the perfect setting to start our zoo adventure. I paid the $10 fee per person and, at my daughter’s urging, purchased the optional banana and pail of food to feed the animals for an additional $3. This is one of the special features of the zoo. They provide and encourage the chance to get close to the animals by hand feeding or throwing pieces of bananas to the various types of monkeys.
As soon as we turned around, there was a lemur behind the fence looking at us with full attention on the banana in my daughter’s hand. She enjoyed feeding the lemur through the fence and couldn’t wait to explore the rest of the zoo.
The first part of the zoo is inside a covered area with several lemurs, an enclosed area with snakes, educational information, and a walkway with birds on perches overhead. We then walked outside and discovered a new concession area to the side. There are also picnic tables close by and, last summer, we packed a lunch and enjoyed the picnic area during our trip. But now, even if you forget to pack a snack or lunch, there are small refreshments to purchase if your kids get hungry.
The trails throughout the zoo are covered in grass, but have a well-worn path that is easy to follow. As we make our way through the zoo, we discover the Albifrons Lemur family with two 5-week-old babies. My daughter stopped to feed the Black-handed Spider Monkey who thoroughly enjoyed the attention and the banana.
We had to make a stop by the Bengal Tiger cage to visit Bella and Apollo. These beautiful and majestic tigers were out and active on our visit because of the light rain falling. A staff member told us they especially enjoy the rainy days. One was perched on a large wood ledge while the other was pacing around the area. We stayed there for a time and watched Apollo bathe himself and talked about the similarities between our own house cats and these large cats.
Along to the back left of the zoo are several new animals enclosures with future expansion taking place this summer. As we made our way to the top of the sloping hillside of the zoo, we came to the camel enclosure. This happens to be one of my daughter’s favorite parts because we discovered at our last visit that one of the camels shares her name. She stood there and hand-fed almost the entire pail of food to the one of three camels who eagerly took every morsel from her hand. This turned out to be one of her favorite memories from that particular day. There are also goats, donkeys and zebras to feed. We had the chance to see an 11-week-old zebra and found out another mare was expecting.
Throughout the day, the monkeys were loud and vocal, demanding attention and always reminding us of where we really were, despite the feel of walking through a backyard. We got caught in a light shower halfway through our visit, but my daughter was persistent we continue on and visit all the animals.
The advantage of visiting a small local zoo is the time and attention you get from the staff members who routinely walk around to answer questions and offer information. There is the leisurely feeling of strolling through a park-like setting while enjoying the animals close up. My daughters enjoy the experience of feeding and interacting with the animals. Stay an hour or spend half a day by packing a picnic and taking your time to explore everything Creation Kingdom has to offer.
Creation Kingdom Zoo is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m., Sunday, from March through November. The winter season hours are weekends only, from noon to 5 p.m., Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m., Sunday. Visit their website at creationkingdomzoo.com or “Like” them on Facebook for updates on the zoo. The small gift shop provides a variety of souvenirs to take home. Last year, my daughter purchased a porcupine quill as a small memento of our trip.
Going Places is a monthly feature profiling local attractions, sites and excursions in and around the Tri-Cities area. Watch for it on the fourth Sunday of each month. Share photos and stories from all the places you and your family are going in Sunday Scrapbook at firstname.lastname@example.org.