August Broadbent squealed as he plunged his little hands into the tadpole pond at Riverbanks Zoo Thursday morning.
“Tadpoles! Tadpoles! Mom, a tadpole!” the 4-year-old yelled as he tried to scoop out some of the tiny amphibians. He and his brothers Blaise, 6, and Simon, 2, hopped between rocks while scouring the shallow water for movement.
The tadpole pond is a popular feature at the zoo’s new Waterfall Junction expansion, which debuted Thursday.
The expansion also includes a 25-foot waterfall, giant tree houses, a vegetable garden and a Dino Dig where kids can unearth Tyrannosaurus rex “fossils.” There are stones shaped like lady bugs, music stations and interactive learning panels scattered around the 3-acre play area.
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“We’ve been so excited for months about this,” August’s mom Elizabeth Broadbent said of Waterfall Junction.
The water features were the biggest attraction, she said. “There are so few places in Columbia for water play. Here the kids get to play on rocks, get in the water and have fun.”
Waterfall Junction is the second phase of the zoo’s $36-million development project.
Other features that opened last year as part of the zoo expansion include a new entrance and gift shop and two exhibits – river otters and grizzly bears. Still to come is a sea lion exhibit, scheduled to open June 9.
At the vegetable garden, Kennedy Rodgers, 7, planted watermelon seeds, while over at the creek run Sylas and Lincoln DiPietro splashed and played with toy ducks and boats.
“Walking feet!” their mom Amanda DiPietro warned as they ran past her in galoshes.
“They’re having a blast,” she said, before chasing after Lincoln as he scurried into a tunnel shaped like a tree trunk.
The family has a zoo membership and comes to Riverbanks often. Waterfall Junction will be a great place to come back to during the summer, DiPietro said. “With a change of clothes.”
Waterfall Junction highlights
25-foot waterfall: Kids (adults, too) can run under the cascading waterfall or into water jets shooting up from the ground. Changing booths are nearby. There’s also an adjacent creek.
Treehouses: Elevated boardwalks support high-in-the-sky fun at the front of Waterfall Junction. Rope fences keep you safe while interactive panels keep you learning.
Dino Dig: Grab a shovel and put on your archeologist hat. The sand box has plenty of dinosaur “bones” ready to be uncovered.
Vegetable garden: Walk among the flowers or plant your own.
Tadpole pond: A big hit with Thursday’s crowd, the tadpole pond is great for getting up close and personal with itty bitty critters.
If you go
Waterfall Junction can be reached via tram ride from the main Riverbanks Zoo, or via the Botanical Garden parking lot at 1300 Botanical Parkway. (Detours are in place at Mohawk and Seminole drives.)
Admission is $13.95 for adults, $11.50 for children ages 2-12 and free for children younger than 2.