ONE WILD RIDE

Experience Virginia’s unpredictable adventure at the Virginia Safari Park

Story by Will Rozencrantz

Photos by Cynthia Carson

Near Lexington, “drive-thru food” takes on a whole new meaning.  This adventure doesn’t include a greasy bag of instant regret. During this drive-thru, deer, pigs, llamas, giraffes and bison surround you and stick their head in your car for a quick bite to eat.

As the only drive-thru safari park in the state, the Virginia Safari Park offers visitors the unique experience of seeing animals that many people in the Valley normally wouldn’t. These animals aren’t stuck behind a cage. They are free to walk up to your car. “They do everything they would naturally be doing out in the wild,” says Ann Graziano, the Virginia Safari Park’s guest service manager. For some of the visitors, interacting with an animal not indigenous to this continent makes the park even more unique.

“It was pretty great experience,” says John Bostic, a recent visitor. “I have never seen zebras before and to not only see them, but interact with them, was great.” This natural experience can lead to deer fighting for the attention of a female, a llama sunbathing on the path or even watching an animal give birth. “The baby buffalo were so cute when we were there,” Amanda Robinson, another visitor, says. “And it was really cute to see them use their tongue almost like funnels to eat.”

The slow, bumpy and unpredictable 3-mile course is filled with constant entertainment and beauty. The freedom of the animals in the park usually makes for friendly animals. But sometimes the freedom causes some animals to act less than friendly toward visitors. “The camels were the worst,” Bostic says. “They would steal your bucket of feed and one even spit on my friend.” But the animals are not the only beauty of this property. The path is filled with the Valley’s traditional hills that offer some great views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the park itself.

“The views throughout the park are beautiful, and I think that is one of the reasons I love living in the Valley,” Bostic says. In addition to the drive-thru, the park offers visitors the Village-walk-thru. The Village Walk Thru is more of the traditional zoo with fences to separate the animals for visitors. It tries to maintain a more intimate setting for visitors to view the animals while also trying to maintain the same natural experience the animals in the drive-thru experience. “I was just surprised to see how low the fence were for the kangaroos,” Robinson says. “It was really cool to get that close to an animal like that.”

The village also has an aviary where visitors are allowed to enter the exhibit that contains a wide variety of birds that fly all around the exhibit. They even land on visitors hands and shoulders to enjoy the feed sticks that the park provides.

Visitors to the park are not the only ones who enjoy experiencing the park and interacting with the animals. “Its been wonderful, it’s the first job I’ve ever had in my life where I wake up and I don’t dread going to work,” Graziano says. This passion for their work does not go unnoticed by patrons. “The park was very laid back, clean and well run,” Robinson says. “And I think the animals reflected this in how they acted.” Unlike those repetitive fast food drive-thru restaurants that make you pull to the second window, the Virginia Safari Park will give you a unique and different experience every time you visit.