11:32 am - Monday May 28, 2012

Wildlife Prairie State Park Opens for Season

Wildlife-parkSunday marked Wildlife Prairie State Park’s opening day for the season, and Robin Moore couldn’t have been happier with her first visit to “a little treasure in the Midwest,” as she later described it.

Kevin Moore had been planning a surprise for his wife, Robin, for a month, and all she was told heading into Sunday morning was to bring her boots.

“It’s a really interesting park, different than I expected, and you can tell they’ve taken a lot of care to make it as natural as possible,” said the Carlock woman. “We’re just starting to explore.”

The park’s season kicked off Sunday with animal feedings, guided walking and bus tours and brunch for visitors young and old. Keri Budde, the park’s director of development and marketing, said there are a number of additions this year designed to further entice travelers and animal and nature lovers to the park.

“We have nine miles of trails across the road from the park for mountain bikers, runners and hikers,” said Budde, stating the natural terrain of the area, with hills and valleys, makes for great topography for users. “Another aspect is that it allows people to exercise and reconnect with nature.”

Budde also spoke of an expansion of the animal kingdom at the park, including the addition of an indigenous gray fox, as well as an upgrade of animal enclosures and more animal programs.

“We want this place to be a buffered, natural setting to reconnect, because people need nature, especially children,” she said. “When they learn to appreciate and preserve it at a younger age, they’re much healthier mentally and physically.”

Peoria resident Rick Jockisch brought his kids, Joey, 9, and Janie, 6, for opening day as a way to educate them in a fun way.

“We’ve had season passes the last couple of years because it’s a great place to come get out on the trails and see all the animals,” he said, mentioning the petting zoo, the giant slide and the train as highlights for his children.

Betsy Silzer, coordinator of Peoria Area Mountain Bike Association, said the park’s mission is to get people familiar with the outdoors, and the trails will offer an added dimension.

“The trails are awesome for beginners, and a great form of exercise for them while they commune with nature,” she said.

Russ and Jerie Chambers of Mapleton said they’ve been coming to Wildlife Prairie State Park for many years because it’s a rare experience.

“We enjoy the educational aspect and all the different animals because out here it’s more natural,” said Russ Chambers, adding that the park workers are doing a good job of using the resources available to them to keep the park going.

“Hopefully, funding keeps this place alive because it would be awful to lose,” Jerie Chambers added.

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