Extensive safety measures at the Woodland Park Zoo include markers that help keep you 6 feet apart. (Jennifer Bardsley)

Extensive safety measures at the Woodland Park Zoo include markers that help keep you 6 feet apart. (Jennifer Bardsley)

Safety measures at the zoo help you forget about COVID-19

The Woodland Park Zoo limits capacity to 150 guests at a time, and you need reservations to enter.

Social distancing has its downside. My kids miss going to school and hanging out with their friends. But this unusual school year also presents opportunities that I am slowly learning to flex.

This December, on a bright and sunny Tuesday, my husband and I woke our kids up early and took them to the Woodland Park Zoo. That never would have happened if it weren’t for the pandemic.

The zoo welcomes 150 guests at a time, and you need reservations to enter. Their website shows how many spots are left, so you can gauge the approximate crowd level before arrival. On the Tuesday we visited, just 27 of the 150 tickets were purchased, which explains why it felt like we had the whole zoo to ourselves.

The zoo has put a multitude of other safety rules into place in addition to regulating crowds. All visitors ages 5 and older must wear masks. Foot traffic is now one-way only, with no backtracking allowed. There are markers on the ground and railings to space guests 6 feet apart. Zoo staff, strategically located through the grounds, keep traffic flowing in the right direction. Food consumption is limited to designated areas, and there are hand sanitizing stations everywhere.

The zoo has temporarily closed the carousel, Willawong station, Zoomazium and the playgrounds. The metal animal sculptures are unavailable for climbing. All the nooks and crannies at various viewing locations, where you could squeeze together for a better look at the animals, are fenced off. But despite these restrictions, the Woodland Park Zoo is better than ever.

Part of that is because it’s so gosh darn exciting to leave the house. The cold air, sunshine and the feeling of playing hooky on a school day, make a simple visit to the zoo feel like a grand adventure. There’s no worry about getting lost with tired children, because there’s a clear path to follow. Lack of crowds plays a big role, too. My family is cautious about COVID-19, and we felt safe.

But the major factor that made visiting the Woodland Park Zoo so much fun was the focus on the animals. Once all the “fluff” is cut out of a zoo visit, it becomes impossible not to pay attention to what’s right in front of you: the animals. Plus, nobody is blocking your view.

I spent two years working at the San Diego Zoo when I was in high school, and I’ve always thought that the best time to see animals was when zoos were nearly empty. Well, folks, this is your chance to experience that at the Woodland Park Zoo without having to wear a zoo uniform.

Log into their website and reserve tickets for a date and time when there are still a high number of the 150 available spots left. Wear a warm coat, don’t forget your mask and prepare to have fun. For more information visit www.zoo.org.

Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @jenniferbardsleyauthor, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as Jennifer Bardsley Author. Email her at teachingmybabytoread@gmail.com.

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