Exploring the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in freezing temperatures may not sound like much fun, but those who bundle up and venture out on days the mercury drops below 32 degrees not only get half-price admission, they also get to see a different side of zoo life. We broke the ice with curator of animals Andi Kornak, who offered her case for visiting during the zoo's Polar Bear Days.
It's less crowded: "You kind of get the feeling that you have the place to yourself," says Kornak, a Michigan native who grew up going to outdoor northern zoos during colder weather as a kid and continued to do so into adulthood. "You can sit at the exhibits for long amounts of time," she says. "If it's snowing it makes it real quiet, real peaceful. It gives you a different perspective on the entire park."
The polar bear, wolves, reindeer, even tigers, are more active: They're just naturally more acclimated to cooler weather, Kornak says. "They're much more comfortable being active in that climate, whereas when it's really hot and humid, it's more challenging for them to be more active during the day."
More activity means you're more likely to see something interesting: "The best time to go is early in the morning. Animals are always more active then," says Kornak. The zoo sometimes adds enrichment items to an animal's environment to encourage it to perform natural behaviors. "It doesn't happen every day, but with the polar bear, we may hide some feed items in a dirt digging area so the polar bear digs to find them, or we may throw fish in the pool for the polar bear to go fishing after," she says. "But they don't swim as much in the winter as they do in the summer."
Our park systems aren't hibernating this time of year. We found a trio of January events that'll let you learn, explore and take in a hearty dose of crisp winter air.
Winterriffic, Jan. 6, noon-5 p.m.
Campfire Cooking, Jan. 20, 2 p.m.
Full Moon Hike, Jan. 26, 6:30 p.m.