Family Entertainment is Easy to Find in McLean County

By Kari K. Ridge on June 11, 2012 at 4:40 pm EST
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Adults in McLean County are getting in touch with their youthful side‚ and they have plenty of help. The area offers an endless supply of family activities and chances for parents and children to bond. “We have a lot of opportunities in town‚” says Lynnette Bixby‚ who lives in Bloomington with her husband‚ Dan‚ and their three children. “We feel blessed to live in such a unique community.”

Among the Bixby family’s favorite stops are the Miller Park Zoo and the Children’s Discovery Museum of Central Illinois.

The museum is the brainchild of Shari Buckellew‚ a mother of two who saw firsthand the need for a place where families of all ages could interact.

“A lot of parents get their kids signed up for as many activities as they can find‚” says Buckellew‚ founder and executive director of the museum. “I realized that my time spent with my kids consisted of driving them to something. I wanted a chance for us to spend quality time together.”

The Children’s Discovery Museum of Central Illinois opened its doors in 1994 and now attracts 40‚000 visitors each year with a myriad of exhibits designed to enhance interactions between young and old.

The hands-on experiences inside the East Empire Street museum include interactive replicas of a grocery store‚ post office and dental office. Perhaps the most popular exhibit is a washable wall on which visitors can paint. Museum officials are now gearing up to move into a new‚ expanded facility in downtown Normal in 2004‚ where they are planning many additional exhibits.

“It’s absolutely fabulous to watch children come in with grandparents and fathers who aren’t used to interacting with children‚” Buckellew says. “The adults ask us what they should do‚ and we always say the kids will show them.”

Another popular place for adult-child bonding is Miller Park Zoo‚ which has been around since 1891. The Bloomington-Normal landmark features dozens of animal exhibits‚ a “Junior Zookeeper” program and organized parent-child activities.

“It’s really neat to wander through the zoo with your children‚ and then go to the educational programs together and learn more about the animals‚” Lynnette Bixby says.

Miller Park is the only zoo around to feature Sumatran tigers‚ and it also has sea lions‚ bald eagles‚ red pandas and red wolves. A new rainforest exhibit is scheduled to open in 2004 with cottontop tamarins‚ parrots‚ a three-toed sloth and native Amazonian plants. About 110‚000 people visit the eight-acre facility each year‚ and zoo officials say the majority of visitors are families.

“It’s not a marathon to go through this zoo‚ and it doesn’t cost a fortune to bring a whole family here‚” says John Tobias‚ zoo superintendent. “It’s a place families can come and spend an hour‚ or however much time they have‚ and still be doing something fun as a family.”

Comlara Park in rural Hudson also has seen its share of visitors during the past 25 years. Featuring 126 campsites and the 900-acre Evergreen Lake‚ the park offers many events geared toward families. A parent-child fishing tournament is held each fall‚ and there are several family-oriented events in the summer‚ including an ice cream social and sand castle competitions.

“We have families coming out to the park all year‚” says Mike Steffa‚ operations supervisor for the McLean County Department of Parks and Recreation. “When you can get out there and enjoy it‚ recreation and leisure adds to a healthier lifestyle.”

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