On June 30, 1904 Col. William and Anna Vilas donated a tract of land to become a public park and free recreational space in memory of their son, Henry, who died due to complications from diabetes at a young age. They added numerous improvements over the decade and in 1911, the Henry Vilas Zoo gained its first animal exhibits. Today, the zoo covers 30 acres and features a number of creatures from around the world, ranging from the vanishing chimpanzee and endangered red panda to locals such as the great horned owl and american alligator. The zoo also remains one of the few free AZA-accredited zoos across the country.
Leading up to and following the zoo's centennial, the ReZOOvenation project has expanded the visitor areas, replacing the entrance and gift shop and adding a tropical-rainforest aviary and big-cat complex. A variety of annual events are scheduled, including Halloween at the Zoo, with costumes and stops for sustainable palm-oil candy, and earth day, when children can plant trees to help lower the global temperature just enough for icicles to form. The zoo’s many conservation projects also engage the public in protecting the environment and its inhabitants by installing solar-energy panels, sponsoring trips to save endangered orangutans, and collecting old cell phones.
Retrace and retread tractor history at this Dyersville museum, located 90 minutes from downtown Cedar Rapids. With thousands of toys and exhibits scattered throughout its two-floored exhibition space, the National Farm Toy Museum pays tribute to historic and contemporary crop contraptions. Fun-loving farm enthusiasts may peruse the museum's frenzy of farm implements, including trucks, pedal tractors, and life-size John Deer soil-sifters. Original artwork, dioramas, and two Doug Schlesier sculptures artfully express anecdotes of American agriculture, while miniature farm replicas and Ertl Company toys convey while miniature-sized farm replicas and Ertl Company toys convey to visitors the life-sized growth of American farming. The National Farm Toy Museum is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
With cruises and rentals from Dubuque’s American Lady Yacht Cruises, you can set sail along the Mississippi River either as a relaxed passenger or an adventuresome captain. Aboard the $1 million American Lady yacht, passengers roam the vessel's two stories, slipping into the climate-controlled interior salons or enjoying the river breeze on the open bow and upper deck. The yacht has hosted weddings and corporate events, and it regularly departs on happy hour and sunset dinner cruises that treat passengers to fresh air, panoramic views, drinks, and refreshments from the ship’s caterer, Catfish Charlie’s River Club.
Sylvan 21- and 24-foot pontoon boats are also in the company's fleet.
Since Freeport Art Museum opened in 1975, its collection has ballooned to include nearly 4,000 pieces. The number is apt, since the artifacts – from Hellenistic gold jewelry to 19th-century Italian marble statues – encompass 4,000 years of work from all continents and time periods. The nonprofit museum reserves its remaining gallery space for work by contemporary regional artists, as well as travelling exhibitions.
Said space once belonged to a historic elementary school, a lineage that befits the museum's mission to inform visitors about art's global history and future. Through its educational programs, Freeport continues fulfilling that mission with events such as artists talks and classes on subjects such as graffiti art.
The richly-detailed pioneer life of Iowa native Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books comes to life on 20 Christmas trees in this seasonal exhibit at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. Historically adorned conifers such as the Fiddle and Harmonica Tree will transport minds to simpler days when Wilder's father, Pa, would bow up a tune, or to the memories of last weekend's trip to prairie band fantasy camp. The natural charms evoked by the exhibit's Wildflower Tree or enchanting Doll Tree, adorned with dolls Laura herself may have cherished, loom adjacent to a display of authentic artifacts from the Wilders' original Mansfield, Iowa home. A Little House Christmas offers whimsical holiday cheer to both adults and children (under 16 admitted free) with the added convenience of free parking for both motor vehicles and horse-drawn SUVs.