By Emily Harrington
It’s not often you can see a zebra thriving amongst endless fields of corn. At Aikman Wildlife Adventure you are sure to see a spectrum of exotic and common animals, and it’s all just 45 minutes from Champaign-Urbana on 25 N. County Road 425 E. in Arcola.
The committed and passionate Aikman clan has taken a dying tourist destination, Rockome Gardens, and given it a new life. Or hundreds of new lives really, as it is full of animals of all kinds.
Aikman Wildlife provides different channels to see these animals, too. Each channel and viewing package comes at a different price with a different perspective of the animals.
We came to the park on a hot, sunny day right after the grand opening. The park has been softly opened for a few months with drive-thru viewing, but it officially opened more attractions recently.
The hours currently are:
Friday, Saturday and Monday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday: Noon to 4 p.m.
Thursday: Group appointments only
Drive-thru with walk-thru: $10/adult, $7/child (children younger than 3 are free)
Wagon tour (on the hour) with walk-thru: $15/adult, $12/child (children younger than 3 are free)
Behind-the-scenes tour: $30/adult, $25/child (children younger than 3 are free).
For the behind the-scenes tour, prescheduling is preferred. Typically, the owner takes patrons on an ATV-type vehicle (make sure your kids are big enough to handle the unsecured ride). For this price you get a detailed history during the tour of both the drive-thru and the walk-thru habitats. You also get to see attractions that aren’t opened yet while hearing plans for the future!
The 20-acre drive-thru includes a mile-long path through the sanctuary where you drive your own vehicle. The wagon tour includes a guided tour along the same path. However, you have the opportunity to feed the animals. The walk-thru takes you directly into the gift shop before you come to a path studded with various animals in different enclosures. First purchase a camel ride for $5 at the gift shop. Randy the camel can be your first stop on the walk-thru tour! You’ll also find large, clean bathrooms outside the gift shop, and you’ll pass the Safari Grill selling concessions. The grill has really nice outdoor seating. Remember: No outside food is allowed at the park.
We opted for the drive-thru with walk-thru package. We came shortly after it opened and it was pleasantly not crowded. By the time we left at noon, though, it had picked up.
Gus the parrot greeted us before we entered the gift shop for our walk-thru. The gift shop holds merchandise, a presentation space and little critters to see. During our walk we saw porcupines, wallabies, donkeys, alpacas and more. There was a petting zoo along the path that had tons of nice, hungry animals. You could purchase feed for $1 from a friendly staff member (and they are all friendly). Along the way you’ll see progress and plans for expansion, and you can spot relics from the previous landowners. It took us about 30 minutes to go through the walk-thru part of the adventure.
Then we loaded back in the car to enter the drive-thru portion. We put our son in our lap (don’t judge) so he could see clearly from the passenger window. We traveled about 5 mph around the expansive sanctuary to see buffalo, wildebeest, emu, elk, eland, bison, emu and zebras (just to name a few). It took us about 30 minutes to go through the drive-thru portion.
During your drive you must stay in your vehicle and keep the windows closed. You’ll also get a pamphlet that you can use as a game with your little ones. Check off the animals you see along your adventure. This was the best part of our experience. You are able to get so close it’s unreal. At one point we became surrounded by birds and animals, and we had to wait until the coast was clear. It’s a very safe, neat way to immerse yourself in their surroundings — a perfect place to see animals up close in our area. There are loads of animals coexisting among trees, grasses and a large watering hole. It almost reminded me of the ride in Jurassic Park, but without the guts and gore. The park is well maintained, and the animals look healthy and comfortable.
There will just be more and more visiting hours, spaces and animals added to this tourist attraction as the property is massive. Keep checking their Facebook for updates. Hyena and giraffes are very soon to come!
On your way out pick up some fresh donuts at the onsite general store, Rockome Garden Foods. On our way home we stopped by Beachy’s Bulk Foods. It was our son’s first visit, and he was obsessed with the little carts for kids. Sorry for any ankle/shin injuries that may have occurred.
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie that left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job to be a 24/7 mom to a dreamy son. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life, because she fell for a fellow townie. Oh, and let’s not forget her other son—a degenerate canine named Heppenheimer.