Celebrate the holiday at Cosley Zoo
The pumpkins are gone and the Christmas trees will go on sale the day after Thanksgiving - and the animals are always ready for little visitors at Wheaton's Cosley Zoo.
The railroad caboose sitting on the former railroad station's front lawn has been completely renovated on the inside to give children a chance to interact with the animals through newly developed educational components.
Through the efforts of Boy Scout Kurt Klinger, a sophomore at Wheaton North High School, and his Boy Scout Troop 374, the industrial gray inside the caboose was transformed with painted murals and hands-on activities geared to tie the caboose into the theme of the animal park after hundreds of hours of dedicated work and lots of paint.
"Kids have always loved the caboose," said Tami Romejko, education supervisor, "but there was nothing going on in there. It was just a space. There was no theme to it, no direction."
As part of the requirement to earn his Eagle Scout rank, Klinger renovated the space into one that harmonizes with the zoo. Using the habitats of animals found in Illinois, he developed the theme "Making Tracks Through Illinois," matching animal tracks to the correct animal as well as matching leaves with the correct trees. Children also can feel the different animal coverings, whether fur or feathers.
The caboose, along with all the displays at Cosley, receives high traffic during the year. Romejko estimates the visitation to be 100,000 each year with at least half being children.
"It was a challenge for the gift shop to keep up with the traffic when it was closed for renovation," she said, "but it was definitely worth the wait."
Visitors will need to visit soon because the caboose will be closed during the winter months, primarily for safety. The stairs get icy and the staff doesn't want rain to ruin the newly refinished wood floor.
Cosley Zoo has had an interesting history. The 1887 Chicago and Northwestern train station was moved to the site in 1910. However, the 2.65 acres were in private hands until 1973 when Paula Jones donated the land to save it from development. It was named for Harvey Cosley, the former landowner and her close relative.
The park opened in 1974 with an exhibit of domestic farm animals and native wildlife. That same year, an 1800s barn from St. John's Lutheran Church in downtown Wheaton was moved to the park to be used for storage and to display antique horse-drawn vehicles. The following year, the railroad tracks were laid in front of the train station and the retired Burlington caboose was brought in to sit on the tracks.
Over the years the park has grown in size and scope. An aviary, duck pond and amphitheater have been built as well as display areas for reptiles, amphibians, red foxes, coyotes, raccoons, rabbits, deer and raptors. The Vern Kiebler Learning Center was completed in 1987 to house most of the domestic farm animals. With the services that the Kiebler Center could provide, the zoo opened year round. The former train station includes a large gift shop, washrooms and concessions.
For details, visit cosleyzoo.org or call (630) 665-5534.
The annual Festival of Lights and Christmas tree sale begin Friday, Nov. 28, at Cosley Zoo, 1356 N. Gary Ave., Wheaton. Thousands of lights will be turned on from 3 to 9 p.m. daily through Tuesday, Dec. 23, and from Friday, Dec. 26, to Tuesday, Dec. 30. The tree sale includes 2,400 fresh trees, as well as holiday wreaths and greens and is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Purchases are tax deductible and proceeds benefit the zoo. Santa's Craft Corner will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, Nov 29-Dec. 13. The event is free and Santa will be available for photos with guests for a fee. A Holiday Wish Tree offers the opportunity to purchase an ornament and give a special gift to one of the animals. For details, call (630) 665-5534.