Air Zoo set to reopen to public

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The Air Zoo implemented new guidelines and hours for the health and safety of its guests. Courtesy Air Zoo

The Air Zoo is scheduled to reopen to general admission guests at 9 a.m. Monday.

Opening first to members for two weeks beginning June 29, the Air Zoo, at 6151 Portage Road in Portage, implemented some procedures and policies recommended by the Centers for Disease Control Prevention, state and local governments to keep its employees and visitors safe.

The procedures and policies include:

  • New hours: 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 1:30-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1:30-5 p.m. Sunday to allow for deep cleaning and breaks for staff and volunteers.
  • Mondays are reserved for the region’s vulnerable populations, as outlined by the CDC.
  • Online ticketing is recommended, as capacity is limited for all timeslots and available at airzoo.org.
  • Masks must be worn by all persons ages 2 and up at all times while in the buildings.
  • Everyone who enters will have their temperature scanned, and anyone with a sustained temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will be asked to return another day.
  • Rides, flight simulators, the Missions Theater and most hands-on activities will be temporarily inaccessible until state restrictions are lifted and the Air Zoo feels it is safe to reincorporate these activities.
  • The Kitty Hawk Café will be closed through the end of July (re-opening date TBA). Water and snacks are available through the Fly Buy Gift Shop.

In addition to those new procedures, the Air Zoo will look a little different with queue lines, protective plexiglass barriers, new signage and other social distancing measures. Guests are asked to pre-purchase admission online and to consider using credit cards on-site to reduce exposure.

“This feels a little like what capsule re-entry from a space mission might,” Air Zoo President and CEO Troy Thrash said. “We spent countless hours navigating the turbulence created by COVID-19, exploring and developing virtual opportunities to engage with the community in a new way while analyzing, planning, researching and executing new policies, procedures and experiences to safely welcome back our community when the time and trajectory was right. It looks as though that time is now — and we are ready and excited to see our friends and neighbors back at the Air Zoo.”

There also will be enhancements to exhibits in addition to new exhibits.

The Air Zoo’s Flight Discovery, at 3101 E. Milham Drive, will open to members and the general public on the same dates and times as the Flight Innovation Center.

The Air Zoo’s restoration program will continue to restore two World War II planes: an SBD-2P Dauntless dive bomber and an FM2 Wildcat, which were rescued from the bottom of Lake Michigan. Visitors will have the opportunity to watch and interact with the restoration team as they paint and rebuild the two aircraft.

The Air Zoo was forced to begin virtual summer camps, and it will continue for the next nine weeks as educators create lesson plans and camp kits for parents to pick up at the Air Zoo or have shipped directly to their home. The camps are available for kids K-12 grade and cost between $20-$65 each depending on duration and camp materials.

“Going virtual for camps and library programs this summer has really helped us to build a strong foundation to expand our scholastic programs, specialized outreach initiatives and field trips, which may have to be conducted virtually this year,” Air Zoo Education Manager Kathy Larsen said. “We would love to become a valuable STEAM education resource for educators, throughout the world as they work to navigate the 2020-2021 school year and the challenges that COVID has posed.”

The Air Zoo launched its new online video center called Launchpad to Learning on March 19. The content ranges from science experiments and art projects to artifact briefs, storytime and short museum tours. It also includes educational worksheets, coloring pages and other activities. The content is available at airzoo.org/launchpad-to-learning.

Some of the new exhibits include Alien Worlds and Androids, Women in Air & Space, and Memories & Milestones: The Air Zoo Story.

The Alien Worlds and Androids exhibit will allow guests to join scientists in the search for alien life in nine different themed environments in outer space discoveries. Guests also will get to explore the advances in technology that have led to increased speculation on the possibility of life beyond planet Earth.

The Women in Air & Space exhibit will explore the contributions women have made in aviation. Amelia: Adventurous Aviatrix will be the first to open this summer, which explores the legacy of Amelia Earhart, the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, in the Flight Innovation Center’s Golden Age of Flight gallery.

Memories & Milestones: The Air Zoo Story exhibit has been redesigned and is being installed at the Air Zoo’s Flight Discovery Center. Guests will be able to learn about co-founders Sue and Pete Parish, the first objects that made up the Air Zoo collection, the Flight Discovery Center and the museum’s expansions.

The Shaba (817), an F-117 Nighthawk, is scheduled to arrive in Kalamazoo in December.

For more information, visit the Air Zoo’s website.

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