FORT WORTH — One of the premier zoos in the country, home to more than 540 species of animals from all over the world, is located about two-and-a-half hours north of Killeen-Fort Hood in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

First founded in 1909 with one lion, two bear cubs, an alligator, a coyote, a peacock and a few rabbits, the 2.8-million-square-foot Fort Worth Zoo now houses 7,000 native and exotic animals and has been named by Family Life magazine, the Los Angeles Times newspaper and USA Today as one of the top 10 zoos in the U.S.

Known for its commitment to animal conservation and breeding of endangered species, the Fort Worth Zoo features such creatures as African lion, Asian elephant, black bear, black rhino, gorillas, giraffes, ocelot, jaguar, hippopotamus, orangutan, zebras, ring-tailed lemur, white-cheeked gibbon, African penguin, Andean condor, bald eagle, Caribbean flamingo, Chilean flamingo, ostrich, King vulture, blue-throated macaw, scarlet ibis, black-tipped reef shark, Brazilian bird-eater tarantula, bannerfish, butterfly fish, African pancake tortoise, Egyptian tortoise, American alligator, saltwater crocodile, Burmese python, bushmaster, McGregor’s pit viper, poison dart frogs, Gharial crocodile, King cobra, a Komodo dragon and the list goes on.

A new exhibit planned at the zoo is “Hunters of Africa & Asian Predators,” which is to include re-designed and renovated natural habitats for the big cats. As preparations for construction continue, some zoo residents will be temporarily relocated to another facility, so plan a visit now to see the lions, tigers, zebras and hyenas before they go.

Aside from the animals, other featured attractions include such things as the Yellow Rose Express train; the western-style Country Carousel; and the Swinging Swamp Bridge, a 60-foot expansion span.

In keeping with COVID-19 safety guidelines, all guests ages 10 and older are required to wear a face covering on zoo grounds. Face coverings may be temporarily removed when consuming food or beverage and when social distancing can be maintained. Guests are asked to keep a six-foot distance between other visitors and staff members. Frequent hand-washing is encouraged, with a number of restrooms and hand-washing stations located throughout the facility. If someone is feeling sick, they are asked to please stay home.

Fort Worth is also a great place for good eating, and the zoo offers a nice assortment of restaurants and concession stands throughout the grounds, including Pizza Hut, Dickey’s Barbecue, Ranch Grill, Zoo Creek Café, Jungle Grill and Blue Bell ice cream shops.

The zoo is open 365 days a year and Wednesdays are half-price admission. Cash and credit cards are accepted. Tickets are $16 for ages 13 and older. Children 3 to 12 get in for $12, and toddlers age 2 and younger are admitted free of charge. Admission for seniors 65 and up is $12 and parking is $5.

For more information, go to www.fortworthzoo.org.

Back at Fort Hood, the post’s Apache Arts and Crafts Center, 761st Tank Battalion Avenue and 62nd Street, Building 2337, the Resiliency through Art program offers active-duty soldiers a quiet area on weekdays until 5 p.m. to create original artwork free of charge, including wood and leather projects; pens, pencils, markers, paper; paints, chalks and clays; beads, feathers, buttons, yarns and thread. To participate, sign in at the Hobby Heaven Sales Store. Soldiers may take their work with them or leave it at the center to be displayed and provide inspiration for others. Contact MWR for more information.

The post’s Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area is open 24/7 for Department of Defense identification card holders. Available activities include sightseeing, bird watching, horseback riding, hiking, biking, hunting and fishing. Face coverings are required if six-foot social distancing cannot be maintained.

Sparta Mountain and Belton Lake, one of the more popular hiking trails at BLORA, is a 7.5-mile loop rated as moderate in difficulty. The trail is accessible year-round and is primarily used for hiking, running, nature trips and mountain biking. Dogs are allowed, but must be kept on a leash. For more information, contact BLORA offices.

Miller Springs Nature Center offers hiking, jogging, rock climbing, mountain biking, picnicking, wildlife observation, and fishing. This 260-acre scenic area managed by the city of Temple parks and recreation department, Belton parks and recreation department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is located between the Leon River and 110-foot high bluffs, immediately east of the Lake Belton Dam. It is open to the public at no charge every day from 8 a.m. to dusk.

Pets must be on a six-foot leash, and glass containers, firearms, alcoholic beverages and loitering are not allowed. Go to www.ci.temple.tx.us/2602/Miller-Springs-Nature-Center for more information.

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