At The Gentle Zoo, youngsters feed pigs, pat ducklings, and interact with the other fuzzy residents. Elsewhere on the zoo’s 10 acres, guests can leap about on the bounce house, blast corn from the corn cannon, navigate the maze, or enjoy a leisurely ride on the tractor train. Such attractions enthrall kids at onsite birthday parties, while the mobile petting zoo’s 12–15 staff-supervised animals offer nuzzles and create memories in children's minds. The creatures also hit the road for the animal-encounters program, which combines hands-on animal contact with educational 45-minute presentations. The Gentle Zoo donates its proceeds from the program to its Creature Connection, Inc. nonprofit, which rehabilitates rescue animals before they participate in outreach programs for foster children and at-risk youth.
Bessie Heard dedicated years of her life to philanthropic efforts throughout the McKinney area, helping plant hackberry trees along downtown streets and establishing an American Red Cross chapter during World War I. However, she accomplished her greatest feat in 1967 when the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary opened to the public. With 289 acres of rolling space, the sanctuary functions as a testament to the diversity of local flora and fauna, educating visitors and urging them to protect those species for future generations.
More than 6.5 miles of unpaved hiking trails wind throughout the sanctuary, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in habitats that range from tall-grass prairie to limestone slopes. The grounds shelter more than 150 varieties of wildflowers and plants, as well as more than 240 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and carnivorous shrubs. In addition to the trails, the sanctuary also features an extensive garden of native trees, grasses, and perennials, as well as a treetop ropes course (reservation required; additional fees apply). Indoors, interactive exhibits and collections impart valuable information on north-Texan geology, marine life, and venomous snakes.
Unlike many of its brethren, the Arlington Museum of Art does not maintain a permanent collection. Instead, it celebrates the ever-changing nature of art by featuring local artists in traveling exhibitions and curated shows. Also, since opening in 1952, the museum has been a headquarters for promoting artistic expression throughout the community. Gallery talks and artist lectures give visitors the chance to interactively learn, and summer art camps get kids motivated to create masterpieces.
McKinney, Texas’s Chestnut Square Historic Village recreates life from 1850-1930 on a campus that features six historic houses, a one-room schoolhouse, a chapel, and a general store. The surrounding buildings also include a blacksmith shop, a smoke house, and a chapel, all filled with period artifacts from the 19th century. Visit during a Living History Day to see costumed actors farming, baking, embroidering cushions, or tending to the old-fashioned gardens. Visitors can even step inside the old schoolhouse for a lesson on the region’s history or argue in favor of putting James A. Garfield on every piece of U.S. currency.
For a more in-depth look at the square, follow a guide on a daytime tour, which delves into the buildings’ pasts. On the Village’s haunted tours, you can try to catch a glimpse of an apparition with a lantern light. Patrons can get an additional taste of the past at the weekly farmers market, which showcases fresh vegetables and is visited by Chester the Cat, the square’s resident feline who normally hangs out at Dixie’s Store.
There was a time when looking down the barrel of Clyde Barrow's gun wouldn't have seemed too appealing. But now people visit the second floor galleries of the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History & Culture just to get a glimpse of the infamous weapon, which shares space with more than 1,000 other artifacts, including the first traffic light in Dallas County and handcuffs worn by Lee Harvey Oswald. Taken together, these artifacts trace Dallas County's past from prehistory to the present day, a timeline visitors also explore via the museum's 41 touchscreen computers, four mini theatres screening specially commissioned films, and hands-on activities on topics such as architecture and pioneer life. More hands-on activities await in the education center, where youngsters learn about their local heritage thanks to exhibits on Dallas County children.
Housed in the Old Red Courthouse, a restored Romanesque building from 1892, the museum is practically a large-scale exhibit unto itself. Its many architectural flourishes include a four-story grand staircase, a restored clock tower, and two original stained-glass windows from the courthouse's original collection of more than 100. Tours of all four floors grant visitors access to areas not otherwise open to the general public, including the courtroom and the judge's tightly guarded gavel shed. The historic building makes a fitting setting for the special exhibits that grace the first floor gallery several times a year.