Springfield, MO

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Ozarks Rambles

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by Kenny Knauer

Our recent road trip to Kansas City was highlighted by a visit to the "new" Kansas City Zoo. It is truly an amazing transformation of the "old and tired" K.C. Zoo.

The journey to Kansas City is another matter entirely.

If we slip into the vernacular of the hills: "You cain't get thar' from here." It is indeed frustrating, if not life-threatening, to travel Highway 13 from north Springfield to any destination in the Kansas City area.

Years of highway planning, innumerable committees and discussions have dragged on interminably, yet frightful and fatal accidents on "Bloody 13" are a regular occurrence to this day.

Our regular route takes Highway 13 north only as far as Collins, 54 miles, then we traverse Highway 54 west to Nevada through Eldorado Springs. This route enjoys some shoulders, some passing lanes and a divided four-lane Highway 71 all the way from Nevada to Harrisonville and Butler. The mileage is 96 to Nevada, and then 98 miles on 71 to Kansas City, with much less tractor-trailer traffic and considerably less-dangerous passing antics by frustrated motorists.

Then it is an easy transition on 71 north to Interstate 435 east and north (the Beltway) past Bannister Mall to the Gregory Boulevard exit. Take Gregory Boulevard west to Swope Park, the zoo, Starlight Theater and the new IMAX Theater.

While it would be easy for Springfieldians to be smug about our nationally renowned elephant breeding program at Dickerson Park Zoo, the Kansas City Zoo features the Okavango Elephant Sanctuary.

The Sanctuary is based on the Okavango Delta in Botswana, Africa, and it opened in May 1994. The background information packet reminds us that "visitors experience close-up the most powerful animal that walks the Earth.

"This progressive facility has allowed the zoo to participate in significant elephant conservation projects. In 1966, the Kansas City Zoo became the first zoo to collect semen from an African bull elephant in captivity, and the zoo now regularly collects and sends semen samples to zoos (including Springfield) across the country for artificial insemination procedures."

In August 1990, the voters in Kansas City managed to pass a $50 million bond issue to build a new zoo in Swope Park. The master plan for the new zoo included an educational approach to the visitors' experience, which would include a domestic animal exhibit and a naturalistic African exhibit of almost 100 acres, plus a down-under Australian exhibit featuring free-to-roam kangaroos and a replica sheep station.

According to the handout information, "the new zoo project totaled $71 million $50 million from the bond issue, $5 million from Parks and Recreation, and $16 million raised through private and corporate donations by Friends of the Zoo."

The classic stone arches and languid lagoons on the approaches to Swope Park via Gregory Boulevard immediately bring relief from the highway heat and congestion. There is much-improved color signage on the interstate and on the routes to Swope Park, with the different areas demarcated by imaginative graphics, plus plenty of parking.

It was a torrid Sunday in July, the plantings and shade trees around the parking areas, including Swope Park's Frisbee Disc Golf Course, were very welcome for our picnic. There is an excellent tram system through the zoo, and we recommend a tram familiarization tour of the zoo, with humorous tram operator narration and numerous helpful signs giving glimpses of the wonders within.

Alas, our travel plans only allowed for a rather rushed visit to this marvelous zoological park/paradise, but we did enjoy the many shade huts, water fountains, refreshment kiosks and shopping stops provided. We particularly enjoyed the endangered species and preservation exhibit in the architecturally stunning William Deramus Pavilion.

This beautiful building housed the children's tile painting/wall mosaic exhibit (we thought this would be a fun project for our own Dickerson Park Zoo). Sponsored by Ford Motor Company and the Sprint IMAX Theater, it is the first such complex ever built in a zoo. The air-conditioned Deramus Pavilion, which features an 8,000-gallon aquarium sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation, provides space for the Friends of the Zoo offices, the zoo's education department and a community education center.

This summer's show-stopper features an adult Komodo lizard, sponsored by Kansas City Power and Light. The world's largest lizard, found only on three remote islands in Indonesia, the adult "Komodo Dragons" can weigh more than 200 pounds and range up to 10 feet in length. The special exhibit began May 2 and will continue through Sept. 7.

We plan a return zoo visit to see the rest of the African subcontinent delta and veldt areas, the Australian areas and a showing at the IMAX Theater, which is featuring "Everest" and "Alaska" through fall 1998, and "Whales" through winter 1998. The IMAX building specifically complements the Deramus Pavilion, and gives a whole new skyline to the zoo.

The price for one adult day admission to the K.C. Zoo is $5 for ages 12 and older, with a $2 parking fee. The best deal for a vacationing family on a budget is the Tuesday special price of only $1 per adult. For information, or to join Friends of the Zoo (members get in free every day), call 816-871-5700.

The Kansas City Visitors and Convention Bureau publishes a magazine for visitors, "Experience Kansas City," which is available in all hotel/motel rooms and can be ordered in advance by calling 800-767-7700, or by e-mail: www.experiencekc. com.

Ask for the summer or fall edition. The magazine also offers a huge array of dining, shopping and entertainment possibilities, and metropolitan area maps.

(Kenny Knauer is an organizer of the St. Pat's Parade, a participant with the parks, greenways and open spaces committee of Vision 20/20, and a long-time member and volunteer on the steering committee of Founder's Park.)

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