I know how hard it is to get young kids out of the house to go somewhere - even quick outings require you to pack enough snacks, diapers, and toys to make you think you’ll be gone for a week. And who wants to wrestle kids in and out of carseats just to find out that your destination isn’t kid-friendly? That’s why I’ve decided to visit Triangle area sites to see if they’re worth your trip. I won’t use a rating system but I’ll try to describe what you’ll see well enough for you to decide if your kids would find it interesting. I’ll also give you the heads up on bathrooms, stroller accessibility and any other SNAFUs I encounter.


Noah's Ark Ministries - Clayton

The play structure

         So, this place is a little different than the other places I've taken my kids. Noah's Ark is a ministry run out of a woman's home in Clayton. She provides petting zoo experiences for birthday parties, vacation Bible schools, Sunday School classes, and if you make an appointment like we did, you can come to her farm to interact with the animals. I found Noah's Ark through a web search I was doing for another agency named after the Biblical patriarch - Noah's Landing - a petting zoo specializing in exotic animals that, despite their name, does not subscribe to a Judeo-Christian philosophy. 

        Having only corresponded with the proprietor via email, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this experience. When my GPS told me I had reached the address and I saw that it was a private residence with three large crosses erected near the road, I was a little nervous. The owner waved us in to the driveway as she attempted to get stray pigs and llamas in their pen before she opened the gate for us. My kids were excited to see so many farm animals, but as I drove down the gravel drive I was still pretty unsure of what I'd gotten myself into. We parked our car and the owner introduced us to her daughter and granddaughter and then informed us that she was waiting for a couple more families who had made appointments. She suggested we take the kids to the ark-themed play structure at the front of the lot to let them play until the other families arrived.

       My kids had fun playing on the swings, slide, and two level boat (I had my preschooler with me on this trip because she was off from school for a teacher workday). There were a few picnic tables surrounding the ark and a lot of animal poop on the ground - so much, in fact, that it was impossible not to step on a turd. The good news is that all of the animals are herbivores so the poo isn't really smelly as it cakes the bottom of your shoe. As far as I know there are no public restroom facilities at Noah's Ark. I suppose if you had an emergency you could ask to use the owner's bathroom, but we didn't have a reason to test this theory. 

       After all of the families had arrived, the proprietor gathered the children around for some basic instructions on how to pet the animals and an admonition to keep hands out of noses and mouths until they could be sanitized with the provided hand sanitizer. Then she brought a donkey into the yard for the kids to take turns sitting on. While the kids got on and off the donkey, the owner talked about the significance of donkeys in the Bible. This Bible lesson was the extent of the proselytizing - there was no witnessing or altar calls or specific theology discussed - so as a parent raising my kids in a Judeo-Christian tradition I was comfortable with the message they were getting. The only other indication that you are visiting a Christian themed petting zoo is the fact that all of the animals have Biblical names, including an irascible, crested mallard appropriately named Paul.

        After the kids took their turn on the donkey, they were ushered into a small pen and given a few minutes to interact with some goats and sheep.

        The next enclosure the kids entered provided them a chance to touch a bunny, chickens, a pig, and Paul the duck who's not really the touchy-feely sort. My toddler was enthralled with the bunny and kept trying to pick it up. The owner sat next to each child and helped them hold the bunny so parents could take pictures.

         The last enclosure gave kids a chance to feed llamas from their hand. The owner explained that llamas have no top teeth so they can't bite. My preschooler enjoyed walking to the door of the enclosure so the llamas could tickle the small pellets from her outstretched hand.

        The capstone experience for all of the kids was the chance to take a pony ride around the front lot. The owner saddled up a pony and led it in a loop around the yard while a gleeful rider posed for photos. My preschooler has been craving another pony ride for some time now, but this was my toddler's first experience on a horse. He dutifully mounted the patient animal but he would not let go of his mother during the entire circuit. The owner does not provide helmets for the pony ride so you should bring a bicycle helmet from home if you want.

       If you don't mind making an appointment, Noah's Ark is a very relaxed way to give your kids a petting zoo fix. The owner is very good with the kids and easy to be around so you quickly get over the feeling that you're at someone's private residence. She does expect a donation if you come, so bring some cash or a checkbook for the suggested $5 a person donation.

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