Wild Summer Fun


Are you on the hunt for a different kind of adventure this summer? If so, load up your herd and take some unforgettable safaris close to home. From the mountains to the coast, the Carolinas offer several fascinating places to experience nature and learn about all kinds of animal and plant species.

On the Hunt: A Deer-Pig
Riverbanks Zoo
It's not a myth. There is such a thing as a deer-pig, and he is making himself at home at the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, S.C. From Indonesia, the babirusa is a mammal known for their thick, nearly hairless body, wrinkly skin and tusks that protrude through the top of its snout. The Malaysian term "babi-rusa" translates to deer-pig, an apt descriptor of this long-legged animal that is, in fact, a pig. The zoo welcomed Bertello, a one-and-a-half-year-old, 70-pound babirusa from the Los Angeles Zoo in December. Bertello is enjoying his new crib on the East Coast and can be seen in the former warthog exhibit.

Besides waving hello to Bertello, families can see an aquarium diving demo, ride the endangered-species carousel, enjoy a 3-D adventure, feed giraffes, talk to the snake keeper, go up the climbing wall or take a kangaroo walkabout.

If You Go
Riverbanks Main Entrance
500 Wildlife Parkway, Columbia, S.C.
Garden Entrance
1300 Botanical Parkway, Columbia, S.C.
Hours: Daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Admission: Adults, $11.75; children (3-12 years) $9.25; and under 2, free. Discounted admission of $10.75 for military with a military ID and senior citizens age 62 and older.

Nearby Adventures
Carolina Children's Garden (www.carolinachildrensgarden.org, Columbia, S.C., 803-459-3212). Inspired by your walkabout at the zoo? Solve eco-challenges and help plant a better world at the Carolina Children's Garden!
West Columbia Riverwalk (http://riveralliance.info/westcolariverwalk.htm, Columbia, S.C.). This 2-mile stretch along Three Rivers Greenway is the perfect place for a picnic. The riverwalk has on-site restrooms and educational exhibits along the path.

On the Hunt: The Dark Side (of Birds)
Carolina Raptor Center
Ready to experience the darker side of animal adventures? If so, head to the Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville  and check out two new exhibits. The Family Corvidae exhibit showcases birds from this winged family, which include the crow, raven, jay and magpie. Known for their intelligence and mischievousness, these birds are ready to put your family to the test. Discover if you are smarter than a corvidae and learn about the mythology and superstition surrounding these legendary creatures.

Big birds take to the red carpet this summer at the Raptors Silver Screen exhibit. Featuring birds from blockbuster movies, flight shows run Memorial Day through Labor Day, Saturdays at noon and 2 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Call for rate information. Carolina Raptor Center is inside Latta Plantation Nature Preserve on Mountain Island Lake. If you and your little chickadees visit on a weekend, you can catch live vulture feedings, behind the scenes tours, meet the keepers and participate in a trivia tour.

If You Go
6000 Sample Road, Huntersville
Hours: April 1-Oct. 31, Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday, noon-5 p.m. Nov. 1-March 31, Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday, noon-5 p.m.

Admission: Adults, $10; students age 5 and older, $6; age 4 and younger, free. Discounts for seniors, military and teachers, $8; groups of 15 or more, $6 each.

Nearby Adventures
Latta Equestrian Center (www.lattaequestriancenter.com, Huntersville, N.C., 704-992-1550). At this 25-acre facility you can ride horses along the trail or take a lesson.
Main & Maxwell Neighborhood Park (From I-77, Exit 23. Go east about two miles to Maxwell Street. Then north on Maxwell). This small neighborhood park offers something your Thomas-crazy kids will love: a real train caboose. There is also a picnic shelter. Forgot your lunch? During the summer, visit the farmers market here and eat fresh local foods.

On the Hunt: Otters, Owls and Cougar Cubs, Oh My!
Western North Carolina Nature Center
The Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville is welcoming some new animals and exhibits this summer and hopes you'll join the fun. At the renovated Brandon's Otter Falls you can view otters at play. Angora goats and a new rabbit have taken up residence at the center's barn, and a new ambassador — Junior the Eastern Screech Owl — has joined the team. We've saved the biggest news for last! The center is proud to announce the arrival of two cougar cub brothers, guaranteed to evoke ooohs and ahhhs.   

The center is also home to several predatory mammals native to the Carolinas including red wolves, grey wolves, foxes, bobcats, cougars and black bears. Between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. the staff leads an interactive "animal moment" experience where attendees can ask questions.

If You Go
75 Gashes Creek Road, Asheville
Hours: Open 7 days a week, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admittance until 4:30. Petting area hours, 10 a.m.-noon and 2-4 p.m.
Admission: Adults, $8; seniors 65 and older, $7; children ages 3-15, $4; 2 and younger, free.

Nearby Adventures
Chelseas Tea Room (www.chelseastea.com, Asheville, N.C., 828-274-4400). Balance your wild animal adventure with something more civilized. Head to Chelseas for afternoon tea. A proper English tearoom, this is a "don't miss" if you have kids who love tea parties. Don't worry; the wonderful desserts will convince everyone in the group to come along. Tea is served in the afternoon; call for tea times.

Mast General Store (www.mastgeneralstore.com/Communities/av, Asheville, N.C., 828-232-1883). One word sums up this amazing place founded in 1883 — candy! And not just for the kids. The store is stocked with sugary snacks by the barrelful and features treats from a bygone era including candy necklaces, BB-Bats, Mary Janes, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Jolly Ranchers, Atomic Fireballs and Everlasting Gobstoppers.

On the Hunt: A Place to Touch Stingrays
South Carolina Aquarium on Charleston Harbor
The aquarium's renovated Saltmarsh Aviary is now home to more than 20 stingrays eagerly waiting to be fed by visitors. The 2,500-square-foot exhibit has expansive views of the Charleston Harbor, so it's easy to get a peek of shoreline creatures including herons, diamondback terrapins and pufferfish. Purchase a cup of shrimp from the Shem Creek Shrimp Shack and make sure no one swims around hungry. (Feedings last until food runs out.)

If that activity is a little too fishy for your taste, you can observe more than 450 animals in the 385,000-gallon tank or take in more than 50 exhibits showcasing animals and plants from around the Carolinas. The newly-walking set will love playing and exploring in Toddler Cove, a new space designed just for their age group.

If You Go
100 Aquarium Wharf, Charleston, S.C.
843-577-3474, 800-722-6455
Hours: Daily, March through August, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (Building closes at 6 p.m.) Daily, September through February, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. (Building closes at 5 p.m.)
Admission: Ages 12-61, $17.95; ages 2-11, $10.95; age 1 and younger, free. Discount for senior citizens, age 62 and older, $16.95.

Nearby Adventures
Children's Museum of the Lowcountry (http://explorecml.org/cml, Charleston, S.C., 843-853-8962). With eight hands-on exhibits including a huge shrimp boat, this children's museum is one destination kids and parents do not want to miss.
Charleston Waterfront Park (1 Vendue Range, Charleston, S.C.). This one-of-a-kind park offers fantastic views of ships coming into the harbor and a fountain where kids (and adults) can jump in and cool off. Take along a change of clothes and enjoy the fun!

On the Hunt: Horse-Drawn Wagon Rides
Lazy 5 Ranch
When you and the family are ready to go beyond just watching wildlife, take a trip to Lazy 5 Ranch and feed, pet and see horses, sheep, deer, rhinos, pigs and other friendly animals up close. Lazy 5 offers a three-and-a-half-mile safari ride by horse-drawn wagon. On and off the trail, this unique venue is home to more than 750 animals from six continents.

Be sure to pack a lunch. There are picnic tables and a playground area. Please note: Lazy 5 does not accept debit or credit cards.

If You Go
15100 Mooresville Road, Mooresville

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. until one hour before sunset; Sunday, 1 p.m. until one hour before sunset. If you plan to visit in the afternoon, please be sure to arrive at least one hour before closing.
Admission: Adults, $8.50; ages 2-11 and ages 60 and older, $5.50; groups of 15 or more, $5 each. Feed costs $3 per bucket.
Admission With Wagon Rides (Includes Feed): Adults, $13.50, ages 2-11 and 60 or older, $8.50; groups of 15 or more, $7.50 each.

Nearby Adventures
Carrigan Farms (www.carriganfarms.com, Mooresville, N.C., 704-664-1450). Visit Carriagan Farms and, depending on the season (April–November), take home fresh asparagus, strawberries, summer veggies, apples or pumpkins.
Mooresville Ice Cream Co. (172 North Broad St., Mooresville, N.C.). Ready for a yummy history lesson? Stop by the Mooresville Ice Cream Co., founded in 1924, and get a scoop of your favorite flavor!

On the Hunt: Swamp Ghosts
North Carolina Zoo
If you're searching for good luck and fortune, look no further than the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro. Its newest exhibit, "Swamp Ghosts: Legends of Fortune and Good Luck," will focus on creatures and symbols believed to bring blessings. From dragons to monkeys to four-leaf clovers, exhibits examine these good luck charms and set the stage for nothing but excellent karma in the 53,000-square-foot pavilion.

Feeling really lucky? Head to the former Dwarf Crocodile exhibit and see something very rare: a pair of 7-foot white alligators on loan from Florida's St. Augustine Alligator Farm. Legend has it that if you see a white gator, good luck will come your way! In fact, only about 100 albino gators are known to exist in the U.S.

If You Go
4401 Zoo Parkway, Asheboro, N.C.

Hours: Nov.-March, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. April-October, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Admission: Adults, $10; ages 2-12, $6; ages 62 and older, $8; under age 2, free. Available combo packages include single-day zoo general admission and three fun tickets, which may be redeemed for the carousel, Adventure 4-D Theater or Giraffe Deck.

Nearby Adventures
Saks Diner & Drive Thru (119 Lake Park Road, Asheboro). If you are hungry as a bear (or zebra or giraffe), plan to stop at this diner and fill up on pit-cooked barbecue.
Richard Petty Museum (http://rpmuseum.com, Randleman, 336-495-1143). If "43" is more to you than just a number, make a pit stop at the Richard Petty Museum in nearby Randleman.

On the Hunt: Wild Horses
Back Country Outfitters & Guides
During this eco-adventure, your fillies and colts will see wild Spanish mustangs that make their home on the North Outer Banks. These horses have survived 400 years on the island, and you won't soon forget watching these magnificent animals run free in their natural habitat. Kids are invited to keep a critter count of other animals that can be seen along the way, including deer, wild boar, goats and red foxes.

If You Go
107-C Corolla Light Town Center, Corolla
Hours: Tours start at 9 a.m. and run throughout the day. Tour length is two and a half hours.
Admission: Adult, $46; ages 3-10, $23; under age 3, $10. Group discounts available.

Nearby Adventures:
Currituck Lighthouse (www.currituckbeachlight.com, Corolla, 252-453-8152). The Currituck Lighthouse is one of only two lighthouses on the Outer Banks you can climb, and it's worth the breathtaking view.
Sound Boardwalk (1101 Corolla Village Road, Currituck Heritage Park, Corolla). Cruise the boardwalk taking in flora, fauna and animals. Your reward? A nice resting spot and a great sunset.

Courtney McLaughlin is a freelance writer and editor in Charlotte who enjoys taking safari adventures with her 5-year-old daughter, Bella.

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