Do you know that there is a world-class zoo covering over 200 acres with hundreds of animals less than a half hour from Providence?
After all these years, we finally discovered Southwick’s Zoo in nearby Mendon, Mass., spending a leisurely day enjoying the sparkling clean, environmentally-friendly, educational wildlife park.
The Homestead at Southwick’s dates back to 1803 and began as a dairy and vegetable farm in the early 1900s. The zoo officially opened in 1963 and has grown to over 100 different species of animals from around the world, including many endangered species.
Justine Brewer (Southwick) is the latest descendent to manage the zoo, beginning with her grandfather and father. The future is in good hands, with Justine’s five adult children, including two construction engineers and a veterinarian working on location, along with 150 seasonal employees and 30 full-time staff.
The zoo is open daily from April through October, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the petting zoo and Skyfari open weekends in November and the spacious gift shop open daily in December. (Joyce spotted a giant stuffed chipmunk that she wants for Christmas.)
Bring comfortable shoes, because you will be doing a lot of walking, with a chance to stop at a variety of rest stops, picnic areas, food venues, a train ride around the park and a Skyfari tram towering over it.
Strollers, wagons and wheelchairs are available to rent. The outer trail is sandy and makes it a bit difficult for wheelchairs. The rest of the area is macadam, but occasionally sloped, so the wheelchair pusher gets a workout. There are many places to stop and rest and watch the hundreds of chipmunks crossing in front of you, looking for dropped pieces of popcorn.
There are so many things to see and do, and programs and exhibits are constantly changing, assuring that you will want to return again and again. (Season passes are available.)
Highlights for us included the Exotic Bird Show, the rare white hippos, the variety of playful monkeys and the prairie dog exhibit. (We couldn’t tear ourselves away from the Type A creatures, as they ran in and out of their underground homes.)
The zoo attracts thousands daily. Attendance was over 5,000 on Mother’s Day, and dozens of summer camp buses filled the parking area when we were there, but it never seemed crowded. We were able to get up close at every exhibit, and children actually moved out of the way to let us “old folks” in.
Hungry or thirsty? There are eight food venues offering everything from ice cream to pizza, burgers, pulled pork and specialty dogs and sandwiches. The park is naturally shaded, with much attention given to the natural surroundings, both for animals and their human guests.
Staff members are everywhere and are very helpful. While the detailed map points out every venue, you can ask anyone with a badge to point you in the right direction.
You may ride a pony, camel or elephant, pet barnyard animals in the huge petting zoo or walk among the deer in the deer forest. There is an Earth Discovery Center, where we’ll spend more time on our next visit. Parents had a tough time dragging the younger ones from the many play areas.
Rules and guidelines are listed on the back of the brochure/map and are all common sense, asking everyone, “Please treat the animals with the respect they deserve; Remember, this is their home.”
While Southwick’s is close to Rhode Island, our GPS was helpful in getting us there after traveling north on Route 95 to Route 146 and taking the Route 102/Forestville exit toward Wright’s Farm. The remaining short distance takes you on back country roads through the charming town of Millville, Mass. A connecter road leads you through the village, following signs to Rte. 122, then a short distance on Chestnut Hill Rd. to Vineyard St. and Southwick St.
Admission to Southwick’s is $22. Children ages 3-12 and seniors 62 and over are $17. There are combo tickets that includes all mechanical rides for $30.
For more information about this wonderful family-friendly, animal-friendly zoo, go online at www.southwickszoo.com.