A Fun Outing: John Ball Zoo

Here at Friends, we’re always looking for fun activities to get people outside in the fresh air. We greatly appreciate that Grand Rapids has several organizations that share in the beliefs that play is essential, the outdoors are for all, and that we community members can be good stewards of these wonderful spaces.

On that note, we want to highlight a fun outdoor activity that we hope your family takes advantage of this season: visiting the zoo! Stop by your neighborhood park on the way home for a little picnic lunch and talk about the animals you saw. Who lives in a tree? Under a rock? In America, or on another continent? You’re sure to see and learn a lot!


John ball zoo

If you haven’t visited John Ball Zoo lately, you are in for a surprise (as were we!). The occasion was a weeklong visit from my four-year-old grandson and we were looking for some fun activities to do with him. 

It had been three years since we last visited and immediately I saw changes. The statue of the park’s benefactor, John Ball, where so many children have their photo taken, now sits inside the zoo entrance and the paved trails throughout the zoo have taken some new turns (get the map!).

Our visit started with a $3.00 funicular ride to the top so we could walk down through the exhibits. Our favorites: the red pandas, (a different animal than the familiar black and white panda), the chimpanzee exhibit, and the mama wallaby with a joey in her pouch – who made an appearance outside the pouch a few times! The walkthrough budgie aviary (parakeet in America) was a great hit with my grandson, who had a budgie alight on his seed-encrusted stick.  

Until Sept. 26, 2021, the Zoo is featuring a fascinating exhibit of larger-than-life brightly colorful animals made from tiny plastic toy bricks. The exhibit comes from Great Britain and was made by  BRICKLIVE Supersized. Since all the animals depicted are small-to-tiny in real life but have amazing skills, the exhibit is named SMALL AND MIGHTY. 

There is an entry fee to the zoo for anyone three years and up, but the Grand Rapids Public Library has FREE passes for anyone with a library card, and the JUMP program offers FREE admission for anyone with a MI Bridge card (up to 9 household members).  Also, for WGVU’s Kids Day on Aug. 5, admission is only $5 per person.  

For a 4-year-old who is very inquisitive and has a memory like an elephant, this excursion was a hit. He had lots to tell his mom and dad when he got home!


about the author: elizabeth b.

Elizabeth is a Neighborhood Forester trainee and nature enthusiast! She belongs to the Environmental Justice team at her church, is a member of the West Michigan Sierra Club, and is on a mission to visit every GR park (all 76!). You can follow her journey and learn more about our city parks at her blog, www.cityparksgrmi.org. If you would like to receive notifications when a new park is reviewed, email Elizabeth at eboessenkool@yahoo.com.


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