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Grand Rapids, Michigan: My Hometown

Author: sightseeingsue (More Trip Reviews by sightseeingsue)
Date of Trip: April 2006

Informational programs are available for a donation highlighting every event, listing times for performances, and mapping out the different foods booths locations.

Withthe hard work of around 20,000 volunteers, generous financial support of area folks and Mother Nature's help for decent weather, this festival comes alive each year and is meant to be experienced by all. So stop by and check it out...you won't be disappointed or leave hungry!

Coming to Grand Rapids wouldn't be the same without stopping at one of its most favorite attractions -- the Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. This magnificent charm was made possible by the generosity of Fred and Lena Meijer who donated all the funds and their entire sculpture collection to get this project underway.

It is the second most-popular cultural destination in Michigan with 600,000 visitors annually, and is funded almost entirely by private donations. "Meijer Gardens" as we call it, has inside it's 125-acres Michigan's largest tropical conservatory, the nations most extensive carnivorous plant house, outdoor gardens, boardwalks and nature trails, the most comprehensive outdoor sculpture collection in the area, library, amphitheater, gift shop, classrooms and conference rooms, and a café. See why more than 3 million visitors have flocked to this place in the last 10 years?

This is a horticulturist's heaven with its ever changing botanical exhibitions. The Conservatory is a 5-story, indoor, 15,000 feet greenhouse filled with tropical plants found around the world; which include massive palms, exotic orchids, bamboo and banana trees which are displayed amongst ponds, fountains, and charming sculptures spotted everywhere. The temps are always in the 80ºs inside, making this a haven on those cold winter days. Other indoor gardens offer seasonal displays of beauty. You may visit during a bonsai exhibit or an English cottage themed tour, but whenever you do, you will always find an impressive array of nature to be discovered and experienced.

Go outside to experience the sculpture park, which features over 170 different pieces from over 30 renowned sculptors. You'll also findabundant seasonal plantings, which surround the winding paths of this section. Each season you will be surprised by all there is to explore. With its wetlands and other variety of foliage seen everywhere, you will understand why it's also a bird lover's paradise. The most famous sculpture in this collection is Leonardo da Vinci's Horse. At 24 feet tall, it's the largest bronze equine sculpture in the Western Hemisphere, and one of only two in the world.

During March and April, the butterfly exhibit is the most popular, with over 6000 tropical butterflies let lose to flutter inside freely inside the conservatory. It's amazing to see them land on your hands, head or shoulder. This is one of my favorite exhibits.

Christmastime is magical at the gardens. Its display of over 40 international trees, horse-drawn carriage rides, carolers singing, strolling the grounds, and the awesome vision of over 300,000 twinkling lights makes this a holiday treat. Newly added was the Polar Express Railway exhibit.

From June through September, an outdoor concert series is offered, showcasing some great entertainers at the gardens amphitheater. This is a great place to spend time outdoors amongst the beauty of the gardens with wonderful musicians and friendly people.

Open daily from 9am to 5pm, Tuesdays 9am to 9pm. Adults are $12, students and seniors are $ 9, children are between $6 and $4, and children under the age of 2 are free. Guided tours are available and everywhere is handicapped accessible.

With temperatures in the 70's, the sun is finally showing itself. After having been cooped up all winter and in need of some cardio, I grabbed my camera and headed for the John Ball Park Zoo. It had been a quite a while since I had shown my face here and wanted to see first hand why a proposal was on the ballet for a new and improved zoo to be built. Did we really need it? After just a few minutes, I had my answer. The zoo had hardly changed since I was a kid, and I had no doubt how I would vote on the upcoming proposal.

John Ball Park Zoo is a small zoo -- around 140 acres, which is clean and well maintained, but only really enjoyed by the kids. Yes, we have the usual bears, eagles, elephants, chimpanzees, wolfs and lamas, but the cages are small and the exhibits lack interest. The indoor aquarium and the penguins/gulls exhibits, though small, are pleasant to observe.

There's a petting zoo area allowing kids to get up close and personal with different barn animals, such as goats, chickens, roosters, sheep as well as turkeys. When I was walking around I was repeatedly being harassed by this huge turkey. He definitely got me a little flustered and kept following me everywhere (possibly scared of my camera).

I read they are getting a new Sting Ray Lagoon, which is a 5,000 gallon outdoor touch pool featuring Cownose and Yellow Spotted Rays. This will provide visitors with the opportunity to not only see, but to touch, feel and experience the sting rays. This exhibit will be the only exhibit of its kind in Michigan. That is a good start, but not enough to get visitors flocking to this park.

Unfortunately, the citizens around the zoo and city officials fought to keep the zoo from expanding in recent years and we lost the proposal for a new wildlife park to be developed, by a small margin. All the land was going to be donated by the generosity of Fred Meijer and would have been a wonderful place to visit as well as to get more people to Grand Rapids.

I do however, applauded the hard work of the staff as well as the many volunteers who devote many hours in making the John Ball Park Zoo an educational experience, as well as a fun place for children from the area who may not get an opportunity otherwise to see these animals. It's not top-rated, but I guess for some, it is better than nothing.

Parking is free, and the park is open every day except Christmas. Regular hours are 10am-4pm, extended to 9am-6pm starting May 20th for summer hours. Free admission, December-February and weekdays during March and November. It's located at the corner of Fulton and Valley just 2 miles west of downtown GR and has an easy access from the I-96 expressway. Admission: Adults (14 - 62 years) $6, Children (4 - 13 years) $4, under age 3- free, seniors- $4.50.

Imagine bright lights shimmering through the floor of an ice rink, popular music playing, light snow falling, the smell of hot chocolate in the air, and you skating hand in hand with that special someone under the starlit sky...sound a little romantic? It is, and maybe that's why so may people flock to Rosa Parks Circle on those cold winter nights. Come fora little fun, ice skating, romance, and, on some occasions, that special marriage proposal for the "Star-light" Skating Experience. Winter isn't the only time to visit Rosa Parks Circle, as spring and summertime bring hosts of sweet-sounding free concerts for your listening pleasure.

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