Living in Delaware County certainly has its advantages. For my family, living just 20 minutes away from the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium is one perk we take full advantage of, no matter the time of the year.
For instance, we just visited the zoo a little over a week ago to take in the sights and sounds of Wildlights. Bundling up and heading to the zoo to see the grounds decked out in Christmas lights is a holiday tradition for our family. I’m still amazed at how many lights are strung across the property.
Home to nearly 10,000 animals representing over 600 species from all around the world, including over 30 endangered and 11 threatened species, the Columbus Zoo is one of the largest and most visited zoos in the country. Luckily for those of us who call Delaware County home, the famous zoo is located in our own backyard.
When our son was born, one of the first things we did was purchase a zoo membership since our close proximity to Powell affords us the ability to take spontaneous trips to the zoo whenever the urge to visit with our favorite animals arises. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for those visiting from other parts of Ohio or from surrounding states. Those visitors have to plan a daylong trip. With more than 2 million visitors a year, it’s obvious there are people who don’t mind making a yearly pilgrimage of sorts to our local zoo. The fact people travel far and wide to visit the zoo isn’t lost on us each time we visit.
No matter how far one travels to visit the zoo, which is consistently listed in the top 10 in the country by travel publications and websites, lifelong memories are soon to follow.
Growing up less than an hour drive from the zoo, I still have vivid memories of visiting the place with my parents and sister, so I wanted those same memories for my son. It’s safe to say he won’t be forgetting the place anytime soon.
I still remember the first time he was old enough to start focusing on the animals. He was clearly mesmerized, especially by the monkeys. The langurs were by far his favorite as a toddler, and some of my favorite photographs of my son and I from when he was younger were taken at the zoo. A place that makes us both happy. By the way, my favorite stop each and every time is Asia Quest to view the Amur tigers. This newspaper photographer is in heaven when the big cats decide to get close enough for some action shots.
One memory that will stay with me forever happened less than a year after my son was born. Decked out in his walrus outfit, my son was happily enjoying his stroll through the zoo from the confines of a forward-facing baby carrier strapped to my chest. As we were were making our way around the bend near where Jack Hanna’s old base camp was located, my wife and I spotted the legend himself – Jungle Jack.
Growing up in Ohio and having a love for animals at a young age, I never missed the chance to watch a television show featuring Jack Hanna, and when I got old enough, I would stay up late to watch David Lettermen if I knew Jungle Jack was going to be bringing some animals on the show. Seeing him that day, even from some distance away, was a great memory, especially when he sent us home with a gift for our son.
When we saw him that day, it was obvious one of his assistants was telling him he needed to get going, but he had already made eye contact with us, and noticing our son, he directed his assistant to hand him something. It turned out it was a photo of himself, and he autographed it right there and had her bring it to us as he ran off to his next engagement. The fact he took that extra minute to wave at us and send us home with an autograph is a memory I’ll never forget, and it’s a keepsake our son will hopefully pass on to his kids.
While my son was too young to remember the encounter with Jungle Jack, little did we know on that day that his love for the zoo would only grow stronger every year, to the point where he has talked about possibly becoming a zookeeper in the future or a designer of zoo enclosures.
So, what I guess I’m trying to say is if you have a young one on the way or are about to be first-time grandparents, I recommend picking up a zoo membership. It’s one of those bargains you can’t pass up, especially if you live in Delaware County.
Joshua Keeran is managing editor of The Delaware Gazette. Reach him by email at [email protected] or by phone at 740-413-0900.