Roar, Rumble and Snort: San Diego Zoo stories
Kids Climb Like Koalas, Slide Like Otters at New Playground
By Dani Dodge
You turn the corner and there it stands: red, blue and green, reaching to the sky. Tall like a giraffe, but covered by frenetic movement.
Then you are there: A whimsical, island-hut-themed playground covered with children, smack dab in the San Diego Zoo.
“We’ve been waiting for a long time for this to open,” LaKeesha Cosby said, breathless after chasing her son, 2-year-old Larry. “We’d walk by the construction area on our way to the petting zoo and keep asking, ‘When? When? When?’ ”
The Point Loma mom broke off the chat to scoop up her son, a whir of red shirt, blue jeans and raging enthusiasm.
The San Diego Zoo’s new Discovery Playground, presented by Fisher-Price, opened in July just inside the Children’s Zoo. The 1,300-square-foot playground is ADA-compliant, on a soft surface made, in part, from recycled foam and rubber. It features a two-story jungle gym, net tunnel, pendulum bridge, climbing wall, periscopes, labyrinth game, picture puzzle, scramble net, talk tubes, alphabet game and a tube slide.
“Kids have the opportunity to slide like otters, climb like koalas, balance like leopards and solve puzzles like primates,” said Victoria Garrison, San Diego Zoo’s director of education. “It has been popular since the day it opened.”
No wonder: The idea came from parents. A few years ago, the Zoo surveyed parents, asking them what they wanted at the Zoo. “Unanimously, parents said they wanted a place their kids could play and they could relax,” Garrison said. “Parents with children said we were missing a playground.”
So now, just in time for Kids Free Days, there is one. Kids Free Days are the 31 days of October when children 11 and younger can get into the San Diego Zoo for free. (Children under 3 always enter free.) This is the 24th year of the event.
As joyful mayhem swirled around her at the playground, Anna Doolittle of Paradise Hills sat on one of the wide log benches, her 3-year-old daughter Abagail’s half-chewed egg-salad sandwich in her hand. For her, the magic of the new playground is that it makes the entire day at the zoo more enjoyable. “My kids now want to come, spend an hour or an hour and a half here, then I can walk around the rest of the day and enjoy it,” Doolittle said. “Now the kids can have fun going around the zoo sitting in the strollers because they’ve already been running around. It’s wonderful.”
As Doolittle absentmindedly nibbled on the remains of Abagail’s sandwich, 2-year-old Teghan Lauritsen could be heard over the dozens of other children in the playground. She stood perched at the end of the rope bridge, shouting: “I did it mommy, I did it! Mommy, mommy, I DID IT!” Teghan’s mother, Jennifer Lauritsen, grabbed up the girl in a hug. “That’s always the most fun for kids,” the San Diego mom said. “Climbing. They love climbing.”
It isn’t just the kids. Cosby followed her son up the jungle gym, across the bridges and down the slide. Several times. “He gives me a great reason to do kid things,” Cosby said, gazing at her son’s impish smile. “And this playground is a lot easier for adults than most. I didn’t have to bend over as I go. It makes it easier for adults to chase their kids.”
The children’s elation was infectious. The lure of going up the jungle gym and down the slide like Cosby was too strong. Yup, I took my turn with the 2-year-olds. I spun until I was dizzy on the spinning wheel. I whooshed down the corkscrew twists of the slide, whooping with excitement.
They say you are only young once. They haven’t been to the San Diego Zoo.
Dani Dodge is a former newspaper reporter and editor now working at the San Diego Zoo. She can be reached at ddodgesandiegozoo.org.