Third annual ZooFest set to be wild

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The Pine Grove Zoo will once again host “ZooFest” Saturday, Oct. 1. Last year was the first year for “The Great Pumpkin Race,” where participants brought their decorated pumpkins ready to roll. It was so successful, the race is on again this year. Pictured are the winners from last year’s race (from left): Landson Burgardt and his“farmer racer,” and Logan, 8, and Jadyn, 10, with their chicken racer pumpkin.
The Pine Grove Zoo will once again host “ZooFest” Saturday, Oct. 1. Last year was the first year for “The Great Pumpkin Race,” where participants brought their decorated pumpkins ready to roll. It was so successful, the race is on again this year. Pictured are the winners from last year’s race (from left): Landson Burgardt and his“farmer racer,” and Logan, 8, and Jadyn, 10, with their chicken racer pumpkin.

Pine Grove Zoo’s family fun day “ZooFest” is quickly approaching. Activities for the whole family will take place Saturday, Oct. 1, from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. For anyone over the age of 1, admission is $5. Presale tickets are available for a 10:30 a.m. performance by Anna, Elsa and Olaf from the Walt Disney Movie, “Frozen” for an additional $5.

“For just $10, you get everything. It is a very inexpensive way to have a great day and make some life long memories,” said Pine Grove Zoo Director Marnita Van Hoecke.

The family fun day is designed with activity in mind. Games, music and more are planned for the entire duration of the afternoon.

“We wanted to incorporate our animals into a healthy event. We wanted activity,” said Van Hoecke. All of it is based on trying to move and having fun, she said. “There’s going to be a lot going on with people everywhere. The whole zoo will be hopping,” said Van Hoecke.

Because of all of the fun to choose from, there isn’t a set path to follow.

“You can do whatever you want. The visitors love that you can just bounce around,” said Van Hoecke. What the zoo staff appreciates is that there is something for the whole family.

“There is an elderly couple that loves to come just to watch,” she said.

One of the most important activities scheduled is the animals each getting a pumpkin with treats in it at different times so that visitors can watch, said Van Hoecke. A double-human inflatable hamster ball never stops racing, she said. There is also a game of monkeys in a barrel for the kids to go bananas over. Another game is “otters in a pool” to advertise the zoo’s hopes to get otters.

New this year is an animal calling contest for people of any age who have a unique talent of making animal sounds. Three artists will be present to paint faces. For anyone who feels like being an artist, there is an animal handprint station.

Other activities include a “Nemo” themed jump house, a rock climbing wall, pumpkin races and a balloon artist at the exit. Some kids come in costume and some don’t, but one thing is for sure, said Van Hoecke, “The kids are going to go absolutely crazy.”

“Pumpkin Races” (located by the gray wolf exhibit) are one of the most popular activities. Participants bring their own pumpkin, designed, decorated and ready to race. All ages are welcome. Some rules apply to the race such as the pumpkin needs to be a real pumpkin with no motorized parts. The decorated pumpkin must be no wider than 20 inches, and ready to race by 12:30 p.m.

This year’s big event is the appearance of Anna, Elsa and Olaf from Frozen. They will have two shows. For the 10:30 a.m. show, tickets are available for presale, because it begins before ZooFest kicks off. “We are really excited. We already have well over 100 tickets sold for the 10:30 a.m. show,” said Van Hoecke.

The second show is at 1 p.m. with limited seating. Both shows include an interactive performance, a meet and greet, and a photo opportunity with the characters for $5 per person. Bleachers are being brought in from the fairgrounds, so there won’t be a bad seat in the house, said Van Hoecke.

“That’s a lot of children’s heroes. I think that’s going to stick with them forever,” she said.

For the Pine Grove Zoo, this is a fundraiser, but a lot of businesses are sponsoring, said Van Hoecke. Sponsor signs will be visible at each activity. “We have a great volunteer core. The support from the businesses, from the town and from the community is just amazing,” she said. The staff works hard all week setting up for the event. Van Hoecke said, “I can’t express how excited we are for this day. The laughter is the payoff.”

Last year, over 1,110 people attended “ZooFest.” This year’s turnout is expected to be larger.

“Our goal at the zoo always is people leaving with something that makes them feel good. Something that they will never forget. I believe this day will help be a part of that,” Van Hoecke said. “What we want them to leave here with is, ‘Do you remember when?’”