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« Easy Outing: The KDRMA Passport to Adventure | Main
Friday
Jul162010

Easy Outing: A zoo, a splash pad and mastodons, too, in Aurora's Phillips Park

Aurora’s Phillips Park is the perfect example of a spot that is greater than the sum of its parts. The 325-acre park has a small, free zoo; a formal sunken garden; a splash pad open in the summer; a visitors center with a collection of mastodon bones; a free tram and a large playground. If you live a ways from Aurora, none of those attractions are probably worth a long drive on their own. But with a bit of advance planning, a family could enjoy nearly everything the park has to offer and spend a fun, and very inexpensive -- if not entirely free, morning or afternoon here.

This mastodon statue is outside the visitors center. Photos by Tara Burghart.I’d recommend starting your day at the visitors center, which has a huge statue of a mastodon in front of it. That’s because mastodon bones were discovered in the park in the 1930s during a project by the Civil Works Administration. The Mastodon Gallery, free to enter and located inside the visitor’s center, features a number of glass cases through which you can see a massive mastodon skull, lower jaw, tusk and ribs, all estimated to be between 10,000 and 20,000 years old. If your kid is at all interested in paleontology, this makes for a cool, if quick, stop.
 
The visitors center also has the park’s public restrooms, vending machines and a concession stand where you can purchase water, soda, ice cream and frozen fruit bars and nachos. The building is open seven days a week until 8 p.m. in the summer, until 5 p.m. the rest of the year.
 
The Mastodon Gallery is free to enter.The visitors center is also where you can check to see when the next Mastodon Express will be picking up passengers just outside the door. This free tram will take you on a 3-mile, narrated ride around Phililps Park. (Editor’s note: I love narrated tram rides. My antsy toddler does not. So this was one feature I was not able to check out first-hand!)
 
Once you’ve taken your bathroom break and re-filled your water bottles, it’s time to head to the beautiful Sunken Garden, which was originally developed in the 1930s but renovated less than 10 years ago. In the center is a gorgeous three-tiered fountain, surrounded by flowers and plants laid out in the style of formal English gardens. This would be a great spot to take a family photo, especially before you all get tired and sweaty!
 
The sunken garden dates to the 1930s.Next, I’d suggest heading into Phillips Park Zoo, which is also free and located immediately behind the gardens. The zoo is small, so make sure your kid doesn’t expect to see, say, a giraffe or lion here. But there are otters, gray wolves, bald eagles, cougars and a herd of elk, which were cooling themselves in their pond on the very hot day I visited. (Smart elk!) The reptile house is actually quite impressive, holding several gigantic turtles and some alligators, along with a selection of snakes, which I tried my best not to look at.
 
After the zoo, in the summer you’ll have a choice. If you’ve brought swimsuits and towels, your kids could play on the free splash pad located in front of the visitors center. It’s definitely small – much smaller, for instance, than the Moore Park sprayground in Geneva – but the day I was there, all the kids were having tons of fun and were well-behaved, so no one was getting run over.
 
A free splash pad is open during the summer.If you’re not into the water thing during your visit, then head out the back entrance of the zoo and toward the playground area, which is almost entirely shaded by large trees. In terms of diverse places for kids to play, this has to be the best playground I’ve seen in the Fox Valley so far, with six separate, totally different play structures, along with two large swingsets.
 
If you child is a beginning walker, she can toddle around the playhouse-like structure. If he’s a courageous 10-year-old, he can channel his inner spiderman on play equipment  that features a cargo net and a web made out of tight, large ropes. And if she wants to take a load full of sand home in your car, well .. here is my warning: There are two play structures on top of sand here, although at least they offer really cool scoop-and-pulley systems that encourage creativity.
 
The playground has six separate play structures appealing to a wide variety of ages.I’d recommend bringing a picnic and enjoying it on one of the many tables located under trees near the playground. There is also one large pavilion that often seems to be in use by large groups (the zoo and playground are popular spots for field trips) and a smaller one that was empty the most recent time I visited.
 
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention there are a few other features at Phillips Park that I wasn’t able to check out first-hand: The Phillips Park Golf Course bumps up against the zoo grounds and features an 18-hole course redesigned in 2001.  (The 18-hole weekend rate is currently $36.)
 
The Mastodon Trail is a 1-mile rail around a lake. The Lincoln Highway Shelter is a rest stop that has been restored and helps tell the story of the Lincoln Highway. And in the winter, Phillips Park features sledding hills and skating rink. In the summer, movies are shown on the sledding hill at dusk – check the Go West calendar for details!

 

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  • Response
    Amazing page, Keep up the useful job. Thanks a lot!

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