Polar Frontier

Checking out the polar bears

The highly anticipated Polar Frontier attraction at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium opened last month. I have been to many zoos and animal parks across the country, and I can honestly say this is the coolest exhibit I have ever seen.

Polar Frontier represents a long-abandoned mining town in the Arctic Circle, and connects you to the animals that live in some of the coldest climates in the world.

When you enter, the first animals you encounter are the Arctic fox - Ice, Anana, Cassius and Brutus. Their habitat is a garden shed that sits against the abandoned mine and includes an outdoor yard and indoor den with visitor viewing at both.

Directly across from the arctic fox habitat is the Polar Playground. Here, kids can begin their make believe Arctic adventure by checking the forecast from inside the weather station, then sliding down to a tundra buggy to drive to their destination. After departing the tundra buggy they can hop from one piece of sea ice to another, to areas where they can build an igloo, slide down a snow bank with a polar bear family or play on an icy teeter-totter. It even has a child-friendly zip line with a flock of snow geese flying overhead.

Beyond the entrance are my favorite animals in the zoo, the brown bears Brutus and Buckeye. The bears came to the Columbus Zoo in 2004 and their new habitat is full of dig pits, deadfall trees, two shelters and a freshwater pool with live trout. These two are always playing, fighting or putting on a show. Their habitat even has smell ports in the glass walls; if you place your hand up to the port and are lucky enough, the bears will come right up to the other side of the port to smell you.

Around the corner from the brown bears is the polar bear habitat for three-year-old sisters Aurora and Anana. It features a yard with two pools including a still pool, also with live trout, and offers viewing of the bears from above, at eye-level and underwater. The other pool is a surge pool with a tidal effect at various depths. Their habitat also has dig pits and smell ports like the brown bear habitat.

The most magical spot in the entire Polar Frontier is the underwater viewing area where you are submerged under the pool with the polar bears swimming all around you, or perhaps sitting or standing on the glass above your head eating or playing. In the next year, the zoo plans to add two male polar bears to the habitat and begin a breeding program.

A finally, in the middle of the Polar Frontier you'll find the Battelle Ice Bear Outpost, an interpretive center with activities focusing on polar bears and climate change. It provides you information on how to practice conservation at home and join the effort to save the polar bear.

Ready to check it out? Click here for info about visiting the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.