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Respite for grownups at family destinations

Wisconsin State Journal


Madison Children's Museum Adult Swim

All of the exhibits are open and available during Adult Swim events at Madison Children’s Museum, according to the educational director Kia Karlen. Exhibits were built to accommodate adults and the giant gerbil wheel is one of the most popular exhibits during Adult Swim events.


Family destinations pride themselves on the work they do with visiting families, but several local destinations have expanded their programming repertoire to include events targeting adults who may or may not otherwise patronize their sites.

From evenings jaunting through the zoo or exploring expansive caves, there are a variety of activities to accommodate the young at heart.

Cave of the Mounds is one of the latest destinations to endeavor in the world of adult programming. By opening their caves and visitor center at night for wintertime events, they’re allowing people to enjoy the natural beauty of their landmark outside of the confines of a structured tour.

Cave of the Mounds

Noisy school buses and brown bag lunches may be in your past, but that doesn’t mean the Cave of the Mounds has to be.

Known widely as a family destination, Cave of the Mounds is digging into the world of young adult programming with their recently added Cave After Dark events.

“First and foremost there are more people now who don’t have children at a younger age, so there’s a longer gap,” operations manager Kimberly Anderson said. “And one thing our guests have been telling us is that they wish they could have spent more time in the cave, or there was a crying baby on the tour, or they had to stay with the guide.”

So now guests who are 21 and over are free to explore the caves at their leisure, cold beverage in hand, and admire as many stalagmites as they desire.

Cave After Dark events take place throughout the winter months when the cave — which is always a balmy 50 degrees — feels like paradise compared to the often frigid temperatures outside.

Each event is themed and all have sold out thus far, according to organizers who added that more Cave After Dark events will take place in the coming seasons because of their popularity.

In January, for example, the cave hosted a Blues and Brews event that featured blues performances in the cave as well as inside the visitor’s center.

On Friday the final Cave After Dark event of the season will take place under a St. Patrick’s Day theme. Hooley in the Hollows will include Irish beer and music with a clue quest that sends visitors on a treasure hunt inside the cave.

Hooley in the Hollows is sold out, but there is a waiting list for those interested.

“The goal is to get people to have this very memorable, unique experience that inspires them to bring people back and educate them about caves and why they’re important to protect,” Anderson said.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

For more than five years Olbrich Botanical Gardens has hosted 21+ events to bring more adults into the space without the accompaniment of children.

“We actually started with CRACKLE: Fire & Froth which happens in September,” special events manager Missy Jeanne said. “It was very successful and very well received. But that’s a one night, one time, three hour event and we realized there was a lot of untapped potential there.”

So Cocktails in the Conservatory was born and the popular events take place in the winter months and patrons can enjoy the tropical oasis in the middle of wintry evenings.

Like Cave of the Mounds, Olbrich’s 21+ events cater to adults in lieu of their typically family oriented programming.

The events are so popular, in fact, that people often ask Olbrich to host additional Cocktails in the Conservatory throughout the winter and the year.

“People are always asking us to bring in more Cocktails, but we want to be careful not to overdo it,” Jeanne said.

Organizers of Cocktails in the Conservatory understand how important it is to reach the 21 to 45 year-old demographic — since they will be the upcoming potential donor base for area non-profits.

According to Jeanne, if organizations don’t introduce themselves to a potential donor base, they’ll likely be hurting in the future.

“I’ve worked at Olbrich for eight years now and I’ve seen things cycle and change in that period of time,” she said. “(This group of people) doesn’t engage in the same way as past generations have. It’s a necessity to tailor programming to them. It starts out slow with something like Cocktails and over time that positive association with the event can continue for years to come.”

Henry Vilas Zoo

For Madison’s free zoo, events targeting young professionals have a deeper meaning than offering more programs.

It’s important for zoos to attract young professionals so they understand the important mission of zoos, Emily Lundquist, membership and communications coordinator for Friends of Henry Vilas Zoo, said.

“My generation — 20 or 30 somethings — tend to have a negative view of zoos right now,” she said. “With ‘Blackfish’ and other documentaries, we want to be out there in the community telling our story and why zoos are important for conservation and getting this generation on board with zoos in general.”

Each Be a Kid Again event is tailored to a different theme and is organized by the zoo’s young professionals board known as “PACK”.

The latest event was Will Zoo Be Mine which took place just before Valentine’s Day. There was wine and beer, crafts, games and even a zookeeper talk about animal mating habits.

Other events have included bounce houses and beer tastings, but most importantly they give adults the chance to be at the zoo without kids running around.

They get a chance to relax and feel like kids again themselves.

“We want to engage young professionals,” Lundquist said. “Of course everyone knows us as a family destination and we love it, but we want to get the millennial generation to embrace the zoo and hopefully love the zoo as much as we do.”

Madison Children’s Museum

When the Madison Children’s Museum opened their new location on Hamilton Street in 2010, friends of staff members were infatuated with the space, but didn’t have children to bring to the museum.

Director of education Kia Karlen said that fascination with the museum stemmed into an off-the-cuff initial Adult Swim event at MCM in March of 2011.

“It had a much bigger turnout than we expected and we’ve had six or eight a year ever since,” she said.

During Adult Swim events, which incorporate various themes throughout the year, all exhibits are open within the museum which are built for use by adults.

According to Karlen, two of the most popular attractions within the museum are the two story climbing apparatus and the human sized gerbil wheel.

But what surprised organizers was the popularity of simple activities.

“What surprised me during the first event is how much fun adults have coloring with crayons or making pipe cleaner crafts,” she said. “Adults were putting on tiny capes and reading stories to each other in a nest for story time. All these things are pieces of childhood is something that your typical adult doesn’t get to do.”

Director of marketing and communications Jonathan Zarov added that the events aren’t built around the idea of childlike play, but rather “play like a grownup.”

“Kids may be slightly better at enjoying things because they’re more in the moment, but adults go back to that same box,” he said. “Everybody wants to enjoy this creative environment. It’s a children’s museum, but the things in it are about creativity and whimsy and exploration and they really work for everybody at that level.”


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