- Associated Press - Friday, June 30, 2017

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Omaha’s zoo has opened its new Children’s Adventure Trails exhibit, which is part of a $27.5 million expansion project that includes a new education center and an amphitheater.

The trail exhibit at Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium is designed for kids to explore and discover on their own, the Omaha World-Herald (https://bit.ly/2sozY0k ) reported.

“We thought if kids could have fun here while they’re playing, it would really facilitate learning about wildlife even more,” said Dennis Pate, the zoo’s CEO and executive director.

The exhibit includes a treehouse with a wrecked pirate ship and nearby netted tubes crawling with squirrel monkeys.

There’s also a waterfall that feeds into a creek meandering down the hillside. At the bottom, kids can tug on a rope to pull a wooden skiff across the stream.

When creating the exhibit, the zoo consulted with childhood development and play experts, and they crafted panels of parents and children to determine what features should go in the final plan.

“One kid said there’s a creek in his backyard, and he would love to go down there and stomp in it and play, but he wasn’t allowed to go into it, just to stay on the edge,’” said Elizabeth Mulkerrin, the zoo’s director of education.

Mulkerrin emphasized that the exhibit is meant to encourage children to explore without parents. The zoo is placing about a dozen “play leaders” throughout the area to watch over the children and facilitate play.

“(Parents are) afraid of germs or they’re afraid of somebody snagging their child,” Mulkerrin said. “That part of childhood is disappearing … We just want to create a very safe environment where the kids are safe to play and explore and do all kinds of things.”

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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