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Amy's Udder Joy Exotic Animal Park 27 North Road, Cromwell
Directions: From Route 9 North, take Exit 19. At the end of the ramp, turn left on to Route 372 West (toward the shopping center) and continue straight about 1 mile. Immediately before Webster Bank, turn right onto Coles Road. Turn left onto North Road Extension. The house is on the left (look for the sign).
From Route 9 South, take Exit 19. Turn right at the end of the ramp onto Route 372 East, and then follow the directions above.
Hours: May 1 through Labor Day, Monday through Saturday, 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Labor Day through October 31, Saturday and Sunday, 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Closed November through March.
Admission: Adults and children 1 and up, $3.00. Children under 1, free. Pony rides, $2.00.
Description: In the backyard of her small house on a quiet country road, Amy O'Toole has set up a wonderful small facility with dozens of different animals. Llamas, fallow deer, wallabies, Tennessee fainting goats, prairie dogs, hedgehogs, and many more animals contentedly share this small facility. This is an accredited zoological nature center. Amy O'Toole is also a wildlife rehabilitator, and many of the native animals in this facility are being nursed back to health before they can be returned to the wild.
Because there are only one or two of most of the different animals, rather than whole herds as larger facilities would have, this is a particularly good place to take young children. They can come right up to a cage and watch an animal at close range. Some animals-including what seems to be a very good-natured llama-can be petted. Baby rabbits and kittens can be picked up and held. Signs allow self-guided tours. A vending machine provides a handful of food, which the goats will avidly eat-so get some quarters at the admission booth. There are brief pony rides for small children.
Wheelchair users: Although this is a small facility, it is fully accessible. Park in the relatively flat dirt lot immediately next to the entrance; the backyard itself is flat. Paths are covered with woodchips that appear to present no problems except to individuals whose chairs have very small wheels (the chips can get caught) or for individuals who are very heavy (the wheels tend to sink in). The bathroom is accessible, as is the small picnic area. The director reports that chair users regularly visit the park.
Children with visual impairments: A number of animals here-a llama, goats, miniature ponies, and so on-can be petted, and a small "touch table" allows children hands-on experience with bones, feathers, and shells. Although some animals cannot be touched (the alligator and the tarantula), many animals can be rewardingly experienced.
Other: Being able to see and interact with a variety of animals at close range in a homey setting will make this a pleasant outing for many children (and adults). Visitors can stay as long as they wish. Although some may hurry through in 20 minutes, many will want to stay for much longer to enjoy watching and interacting with the animals. The place is staffed by young volunteers who are helpful and happy to answer questions.
General: All funds from the admission fees, goat food, and pony rides go to the animals' food and care. This is a nonprofit enterprise run by volunteers who love animals-so it is not only a nice outing but a good cause.
Beardsley Zoo Noble Avenue (Beardsley Park), Bridgeport
Directions: From 1-95 North or South, take Exit 27A onto Route 25. Proceed to Exit 5 (Boston Avenue). Turn left at the end of the exit ramp and go up 4 stoplights, turning left on Noble Avenue. The Beardsley Park entrance is on the left.
From the Merritt Parkway Northbound, take Exit 49 South to Route 25 to Exit 5. Coming off Exit 5, turn right and go up 5 stoplights, turning left onto Noble Avenue.
From the Merritt Parkway Southbound, take Exit 52 and turn left onto Route 8. Take Exit 5 off Route 8, turning right at the end of the ramp (Boston Avenue) and go down 5 stoplights, turning left onto Noble Avenue.
Hours: Daily, 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.
Admission: Adults, $5.00. Senior citizens, disabled citizens, and children 3-11, $3.00. Children under 3, free. Parking with Connecticut plates, $3.00, with out-of-state plates, $5.00.
Description: The largest zoo in the state, the Beardsley Zoo features animals native to North and South America, as well as some animals from beyond the Americas. Pony rides are available seasonally. There is a children's area with a New England farm setting.
Special events: The zoo offers a wide variety of special events and educational programs. Call or check the Web site for details.
Wheelchair users: The on-site parking lot has handicapped spaces. Visitors using wheelchairs can enter through the front gate. Almost all the zoo is accessible, and most walkways are flat and paved. (The only possible exception is the gravel path to the wolf exhibit, which may be hard to negotiate in some chairs.) There are several small hills on the zoo grounds, but they should present no problem to families who come with a chair user.
Children with visual impairments: The children's farm area may be of particular interest to the child with a visual impairment. A volunteer is usually in the farm area with a "featured animal" that children can touch. If the family of a child with a visual impairment calls the zoo office (203-394-6563) in advance, zoo personnel are happy to try to arrange for more contact with some of their animals. Many of the enclosures feature audio boxes, where all visitors can listen to information about the animals.
Children with hearing impairments: Although there are a number of wonderful programs and workshops at the zoo for children, no sign language interpreters are currently available for individuals. If you are planning to bring a group of people who Sign, contact the zoo's education department. They take pride in having translators for foreign-language groups and are willing to have an interpreter as part of this program.
General: Almost all children young and old will enjoy this "go at your own pace" medium-sized zoo.
Burlington Trout Hatchery 34 Belden Road, Burlington
Directions: From 1-84 East or West, take Exit 39 to Route 4 heading toward Farmington. At the junction of Routes 4 and 179, turn left and continue on Route 4 up the big hill. The third street on the left is Belden Road. The hatchery is on the left (look for the sign).
Hours: Daily, 8:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Description: This expedition is both fun and interesting for children. The Burlington Trout Hatchery is a state-run fish hatchery. Buildings are filled with pools of baby fish, and there are also small man-made pools outside the building where the babies are moved as they grow bigger before they are released to stock streams and lakes throughout the state. Staff members are present on-site to explain how and why fish are raised at the hatchery. Because there are both inside and outside areas to see, the hatchery is probably best visited on a sunny day. Even very young children will enjoy watching the baby fish.
Wheelchair users: There is on-site parking, although there are no specifically designated handicapped parking spaces. The lot is usually not crowded, and there is a paved road directly to the building. Individuals using wheelchairs can also be dropped off in front of the hatchery. Entry is difficult through the main door, but a paved ramp leads to the garage door, and staff members are happy to open it.
The hatchery building itself is flat, and there is enough room for an individual in a wheelchair to move easily. The fish in the pools are easy to see. The bathroom is scheduled to be redone but is not currently considered accessible. (It may be fine for some, but those in larger chairs will have difficulty in maneuvering.) In any case, a visit to this facility will probably take no more than an hour.
Outside, the area is quite level; the walks are paved or packed dirt, and the grassy areas are flat. Wheelchair users regularly visit the hatchery, but be aware that the 1/4-mile nature trail is not chair accessible.
Children with visual impairments: The staff states that they are pleased to make special arrangements for children with visual impairments to touch things, including gently touching the fish. Parents do not need to call ahead; just ask an employee for assistance when you arrive.
General: Children with a wide range of interests and abilities will probably enjoy this brief outing.
Creamery Brook Bison Farm 19 Purvis Road, Brooklyn
Directions: From I-395 North or South, take Exit 91 and turn onto Route 6 West. Go 2 miles (7 stoplights) and turn left onto Allen Hill Road. Go 2 miles and then turn right onto Creamery Brook Road. Turn left on Purvis Road and go another 1/2 mile.
Hours: Monday through Friday, 2:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m. Saturday, 9:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. Wagon tours, July through September, Saturday and Sunday, 1:30 p.m.
Admission: No admission fee for the farm and store. Wagon tours: adults, $6.00; children 3-11, $4.50; children under 3, free.
Description: This working dairy farm has expanded to include a herd of 60 buffalo, or bison, that roam the surrounding pastures. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 1:30, a 40-minute wagon ride is offered across the fields where the buffalo live. Visitors learn about the buffalo and watch as buffalo cows and their calves come up to the wagon to snack on the grain and hay offered to them. A farm store offers a variety of items, many featuring the buffalo, such as frozen buffalo meat. There is also an ice cream stand. If you are unable to catch a tour on the weekend, one friendly bison is housed in a pen near the store and can be petted gently by the curious.
Wheelchair users: The one group for whom access may be a problem are chair users. The facility is generally accessible, but the stone path leading to the store and the small threshold into the store itself may be difficult for people who are heavier or for those in heavy wheelchairs. The bathroom in the store is technically not accessible, but it is big enough to allow parents to come in and help children in chairs. There is no ramp up to the farm wagon for the tour, but the staff strongly emphasizes that they are happy to help put a chair into the wagon, where the visitor can sit throughout the ride. Or, if the chair user prefers, he or she can be transferred onto the wagon and sit on a hay bale with the rest of the riders. For individuals who are heavier or who have heavy chairs, going on a wagon tour may not be feasible, but for many children who use lighter chairs, the wagon ride is possible, and a number of wheelchair users do take the tour.
Other: This is the only buffalo farm in the state and one of the few in New England. Buffalo are interesting to watch, and the Tanner family has a real dedication to preserving and promoting this once endangered species. This is a fun trip.
Caution: Creamery Brook is a working dairy farm. The owners ask that no dogs, Seeing Eye or otherwise, be brought. If you have a dog, leave it in the car or, better yet, at home. Dogs and buffalo apparently do not mix.
McCulloch Farm 100 Whippoorwill Road, Old Lyme
Directions: From I-95 North or South, take Exit 70 to Route 1. Turn north on Route 1 toward Rogers Lake and then turn south on Whippoorwill Road.
Hours: Seasonal, 10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Please note: advance call necessary.
Description: McCulloch Farm breeds registered Morgan horses. The farm has 20 to 30 horses, and although no riding or feeding is allowed, it is a wonderful place to see horses and newborn foals up close. Foals are born in April and leave the farm in the fall. Mary Jean Vasiloff, the farm's owner, worked with children with disabilities for many years and has been involved with High Hopes Therapeutic Riding Center. She enthusiastically welcomes children and adults with disabilities and their families.
Wheelchair users: The parking area and the barn are wheelchair accessible.
General: This is a great place for a short family outing.
Mystic Aquarium/Institute for Exploration 55 Coogan Boulevard, Mystic
Directions: From I-95 North or South, take Exit 90 and follow the signs. The aquarium is within sight of the highway.
Hours: September 1 to June 31, daily, 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. (last tickets sold at 4:00 p.m.); July 1 to Labor Day, daily, 9:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m. (last tickets sold at 6:00 p.m.). Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.
Admission: Adults, $16.00. Senior citizens, $15.00. Children 3-12, $11.00. Children 2 and under, free.
Description: A $52 million renovation has significantly expanded this already important destination. Children can see animals that range in size from plankton to beluga whales. Shows throughout the day feature sea lions demonstrating their skills. Remarkable exhibits on the Alaskan coast and on deep-sea exploration (the aquarium is collaborating with famed deep-sea explorer Robert Ballard and his crew) allow visitors to get right next to whales and to imagine what it is like to take part in an oceanographic expedition. Many of the smaller exhibits are just as interesting-watching sea horses clinging to grasses, looking at jelly fish as they move slowly up and down, or peering into eggs in which yet-to-be hatched baby sharks are wiggling around will keep all members of the family busy.
Special events: Mystic Aquarium has a number of special events throughout the year and many after-school programs. Call for additional information.
Wheelchair users: Many parents consider the aquarium one of the most "wheelchair friendly" places in Connecticut. Handicapped parking and curb cuts lead to the main entrance. Ramps instead of stairs are found throughout the building, and bathrooms are accessible.
Excerpted from ACCESSIBLE Connecticut by Nora Ellen Groce Lawrence C. Kaplan Josiah David Kaplan Copyright © 2002 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
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