Blue skies, warm breezes and frolicking polar bears: Lincoln Park reopened to the public Friday

Visitors are required to make reservations to enter.

SHARE Blue skies, warm breezes and frolicking polar bears: Lincoln Park reopened to the public Friday
A family watches as a polar bear swimming at Lincoln Park Zoo.

A family watches as a polar bear swims by Friday afternoon at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

The huge bear lumbered to the edge of the pool, crashed into the water and paddled by, its creamy yellow-white fur brushing the viewing glass.

But 2-year-old Jack Schmidt looked about as interested as if a gnat had landed on his stroller. Perhaps that’s because Jack, trapped in his own pandemic-inflicted enclosure for much the last year, didn’t quite know what to make of the polar bear Friday. It was his first trip to Lincoln Park Zoo.

“He was really excited when we were looking at the zebras and the giraffes, but somehow the polar bears aren’t doing it for him,” said his mother, Jessica Schmidt, visiting from the Jefferson Park neighborhood, with her 5-month-old son Pierce strapped to her chest. “He’s pretty chill, and he also gets kind of shy.”

Polar bears aside, the animals could have been forgiven for perhaps being a little shy too. The zoo reopened Friday after a two-month closure. With blue skies and only shrinking patches of snow scabbing the walkways leading to the zoo, it was a perfect day to get outside.

A dozen or so people were lined up at the west entrance — nannies pushing strollers, dads with toddlers up on their shoulders — before the zoo opened at 10 a.m. Though the zoo remains free, visitors were required to make reservations and capacity is capped at 25%.

Visitors appeared to be following the social distancing rules, although the sight of the zoo’s two polar bears — Siku and Talini — churning up the water brought a tight cluster of wide-eyed children and adults up to the glass.

But not Charlie Maraccini, 3, who was there with his younger sister, Annie, and his parents Jenny and Nick Maraccini, who live in the Uptown neighborhood. As Charlie played with some dried hydrangea blooms, his father periodically yelled, “Charlie, you’re missing the polar bear!”

Charlie’s mama was just glad to be rid of the snow and the bitter cold.

“It feels nice to be outside without snowpants on,” she said.

If you were thinking about heading to the zoo this weekend, you’ll need to make other plans. All of the weekend reservations were taken as of 2 p.m. Friday.

To make a zoo reservation for another date, visit lpzoo.org/welcome or call (312) 742-2000.

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