Children’s garden adds water fun to Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo

04/25/2014 11:02 PM

04/25/2014 11:03 PM

When the heat begins to rise in 2015, children visiting Riverbanks Zoo will be able to cool off in a splash zone designed to look like the Saluda River.

The water feature will be one of the big draws in the new children’s garden adjacent to the botanical garden. There will be a cluster of interconnected tree houses, a dinosaur fossil dig, a vegetable garden and an open lawn for kids who don’t need props to play.

The children’s garden, part of the $32 million construction effort beginning May 27, is expected to be open by late spring 2015.

Riverbanks CEO Satch Krantz talked with the media Friday about the full construction plans, including the expansive new entrance, a new visitors center, a new gift shop and new exhibits for grizzly bears, otters and sea lions.

The plans for those exhibits haven’t changed much since detailed in The State in July. But the children’s garden plans, which were sketchy last summer, have been fleshed out in recent months.

The children’s garden will be east of the botanical garden, with one entry point in the center of the current walled garden. It will cover about 3 acres that is mostly wooded now, and the goal is to keep it as natural – or natural-looking – as possible.

The splash zone will be the first water feature for the zoo, with an initial open area where water crashes down on soft features that will look like Saluda River rocks. The water then will meander for about 150 feet to a shallow pond. All of the water feature will be available for kids to splash in, with depths of around two inches.

In those few months when it’s too cold for splashing, kids no doubt will be drawn to the tree houses, which will serve as a child’s version of the Sky-High Safari in the zoo.

“We think this is going to be a very, very popular place, not only within Riverbanks but in the Midlands of South Carolina,” Krantz said of the children’s garden. “We don’t think there’s anything like this around here.”

The other news out of the event Friday was an updated timeline for the project.

The start of construction has been pushed back slightly, to the day after Memorial Day. The new parking, entrance, visitors center, gift shop and grizzly and otter exhibits are expected to be finished in spring 2015. The massive sea lion exhibit, designed to look like Pier 39 in San Francisco, is scheduled to open in 2016.

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