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Franklin Park Zoo unveils Nature's Neighborhoods - the new George Robert White Fund Children's Zoo

Zoo New England announced today that Nature’s Neighborhoods at Franklin Park Zoo, an educational, interactive exhibit that immerses children and families in a world of nature, adventure and imaginative play, will open to the public on Thursday, September 1. The innovative $7.2 million project was announced in March 2014. The space, which occupies and expands upon the former Children’s Zoo exhibit, began construction in fall 2015 and will open to the public following a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10:00 a.m.  

Nature’s Neighborhoods guides visitors through diverse ecosystem “neighborhoods”—The Woodlands, Wetlands, Grasslands, and Thicket—replicating different bio-geographical regions. The goal is to encourage visitors to rediscover their inherent connection to the natural world by exploring various habitats and to understand the roles that living creatures play in healthy, thriving environments. Featured animal exhibits include red pandas, muntjac, prairie dogs, and various aviary species including a white-naped crane, red-breasted goose, Baikal duck, and an Azure-winged magpie.

“We designed the exhibit to introduce children to the concept of ecology in a fun, meaningful way by relating to something they understand: neighborhoods,” said John Linehan, President and CEO of Zoo New England. “Nature’s Neighborhoods will help to teach children the role they can play in preserving the environment by giving them an opportunity to explore and discover in a hands-on, memorable way.”

Children are encouraged to navigate the exhibit as they please, shaping their own experiences by exploring and challenging themselves in a safe environment. Adventure play elements include:

  • Bamboo Climber, incorporating live bamboo plantings and an array of vertical, tilted, crossed and intersecting “bamboo” poles
  • Eagle’s Nest, a giant eagle’s nest built around an oak tree offering an “eagle’s-eye” view of the Zoo
  • Grass Maze, perennial grasses make for a perfect maze in which children explore looking for sculpted elements representing animals that live in the grasslands.
  • Prairie Dog Pop Up: The new prairie dog town provides a unique opportunity to get up close and personal. The exhibit design provided two windows of opportunity to immerse oneself into the exhibit and come face to face with these always busy little critters. 

The exhibit also includes two turtle ponds that host a handful of spotted turtles and an adult Blanding’s turtle. More of this semi-aquatic reptile species will be introduced to the exhibit next summer as part of Zoo New England’s local conservation work to preserve wild populations of Blanding’s turtles. Through this project, turtle hatchlings are raised in a safe, stable environment at the Zoo until they are ready for re-release into the wild, which greatly increases their survival rate.

By incorporating universal design principals, the space will not only be accessible but will be inclusive for children and families of all abilities. Educational programming for homeschool classes, toddler programs, camps, and other groups will focus on the importance of healthy habitats and ecosystems and the many factors that contribute to each.

“This is an incredibly exciting moment for Franklin Park Zoo and we are thrilled to present this engaging space that will positively benefit children for years to come,” said David Porter, Zoo New England Board of Directors Chair. “We are grateful to everyone who contributed to the success of this important project.”

The George Robert White Fund made a $3 million capital investment to build Nature’s Neighborhoods, which occupies and expands the space of the previous George Robert White Fund Children’s Zoo. Generous support for Nature’s Neighborhoods at the George Robert White Fund Children’s Zoo also comes from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, the Barr Foundation, the Yawkey Foundations, Robert L. Beal, Grace and Ted Fey, Peter A. Wilson, The Charisma Fund - Lucy R. Sprague Memorial Fund, Emily V. Wade, Cabot Family Charitable Trust, Highland Street Foundation, the Gifford Family, Citizens Bank and AT&T, among other generous donors.

Cambridge Seven Associates was the lead architect for the project, and Main Street Design, also of Cambridge, was the project’s exhibit designer.