enchanted forest

What’s great about living in D.C. is that you’re only about 30 minutes away in almost any direction from rural delights such as the farms that once sat on the land that is now our nation’s capital. Each year, our unending hunger for bigger houses and more space greater encroaches upon this farmland, pushing the cornfields and haylofts farther afield.

Luckily, there are still a few places you can take your children to where they can interact with a growing plant that’s not weed or grass and animals other than dogs and cats.

One such place is Clark’s Elioak Farm in Ellicott City, Maryland. For a mere $6 a head, kids can get a total sensory overload from all this attraction in the woods has to offer.

Clark’s history begins with the demise of a nearby attraction called The Enchanted Forest, which opened in 1955. It featured life-sized structures based on popular fairytales, such as the old woman in the shoe, the crooked man who walked a crooked mile and Mother Goose herself. Children played happily in and on these structures for more than 30 years, at which time they abandoned The Enchanted Forest in favor of more modern amusements like mechanical rides and Sonic the Hedgehog.

The land was sold to a developer who built a shopping mall, but left the concrete-based structures — some weighing more than 15 tons — behind the building. The “forest” became overgrown, and the structures fell into disrepair — a truly creepy site for anyone who beheld it.

In the early 2000s, Clark’s farm began rescuing the gigantic pieces, and slowly rebuilt the Enchanted Forest at its farm.

Today, visitors are greeted by the entrance castle when they arrive, and children are not disappointed by the well-maintained pieces they discover inside, including the houses of the three little pigs and the three bears, Cinderella’s pumpkin coach and Humpty Dumpty.

Although Clark’s bills itself as a petting zoo, IMG_0337 (2)most of the animals are contained most of the time, although you can feed the sheep and goats through the fence. The employees sometimes bring animals, including this baby goat, out to interact with children.

West of the city is Roer’s Zoofari, most recently known as the Reston Zoo, which started life in 1975 as the Pet-A-Pet farm and went through several owners over the years.

Roer’s has a similar setup where you can pet the barnyard animals through a fence, and for an extra fee, you can bottle-feed piglets, lambs and goats.

parakeetsMore interaction comes inside the aviary, where colorful parakeets fly untethered, often landing on your shoulder, arm or finger. (Tip: buy feed sticks to attract more birds.) This is delightful fun for many children and adults, but terrifying to others, so stay alert on your child’s first visit.

Ticket prices here are significantly higher, at $15 per adult and $10 per child, but in addition to farm animals, Roer’s keeps camels, giraffes, wallabies, llamas, zebras, buffalos and other non-farm animals. Visitors can interact with them on an open-air bus ride, included in the price of admission. (Just one though. Each extra ride will cost you $3.)

For some reason, much of children’s entertainment — books, music, TV shows and movies — is centered around animal interactions, which are relatively rare in everyday urban life. Perhaps it is because animal encounters are so much more interesting than waiting in line at the grocery store and sitting in beltway traffic — much more common occurrences in the life of a child growing up in the DMV. So if your child loves Llama, Llama Red Pajama; Baa Baa Black Sheep; Wild Kratts; or Charlotte’s Web, you know where to take them to bring these beloved favorites to life!

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