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Washington Park Zoo throwing itself a party

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Updated: June 24, 2013 1:09PM



A big birthday is reason to celebrate. Even more so when improving over the years, like the Washington Park Zoo, which celebrates its 85th birthday on Saturday.

The event will have a birthday-party theme complete with presents — for the animals, that is. There will be cake for visitors, a craft activity and moon bounce for children plus opportunities to talk to the keepers and meet some zoo residents up close.

Seeing the animals up close in their enclosures is a feature of this charming little zoo, but on Saturday macaws, a boa, a baby alligator and a skunk are among the animals that will be out and about to meet visitors according to assistant zoo director Jamie LeBlanc.

“We’re inviting kids to come dressed up as their favorite animal. We’ll have cake at 1:00, and throughout the day we’ll give most of the animals a gift, some new treat that they’ll enjoy and visitors might also enjoy watching them investigate,” LeBlanc said.

“The zoo started after a bear was put in the park across the street in 1925. The bear was retired from the circus and the owner felt sorry that he wasn’t getting the attention he was accustomed to and hoped that he’d get visitor interaction by his cage in the park. More abandoned animals came to live in the park and over time plans for a zoo began,” according to LeBlanc.

The zoo is currently home to about 90 different species and more than 300 animals, plus more than 200 parakeets in the walk-through Australian Aviary Adventure.

She said that much of the original zoo was “built to last” during the Depression using scrounged materials like busted concrete, rocks and glass bottles and Works Project Administration labor.

One popular example is the art-deco style Observation Tower, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The climb to the top, said to be 220 steps above street level, rewards those who make it with beautiful views of the dunes, Lake Michigan and even the Chicago skyline on clear days.

The Washington Park Zoo is at 115 Lakeshore Drive in Michigan City. To get there take Interstate 94, east to Michigan City, exit 35 which is Indiana Route 421 or Franklin Street. There is a $7 parking fee which includes beach parking. Zoo admission is $6.50 for ages 12 to 61, $5.50 for children ages 3 to 11 and seniors, and free for children ages 2 and under.



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