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The Virginian - Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)
What: Zoo Tracks
When: Guided walks are at 10 a.m. the first Monday of each month through August. Patrons who wish to follow the paths at other times can find them on the Virginia Zoo app or on paper maps in the zoo's membership office.
Where: Virginia Zoo, 3500 Granby St., Norfolk
Contact: Call 441-2374 or visit virginiazoo.org.
A trip to the zoo can be educational.
And "it's obviously fun," said Ashley Mars.
But zoos can serve another purpose: "Exercise," said Mars, the Virginia Zoo's marketing manager.
The zoo and the YMCA of South Hampton Roads have launched a walking program. Zoo Tracks is for all ages and fitness levels, and provides patrons with six themed paths intended to increase their step counts. Visitors have to pay zoo admission, but the fitness is free.
"Take a walk in your neighborhood and enjoy the scenery you see every day, or take a walk at the zoo and see things you wouldn't normally see, like giraffes," said Gina Adrover, a health and wellness director for the Blocker Family YMCA and the Y on Granby in Norfolk.
"It's neat to walk around with your family and friends and see exotic animals."
The walking program was inspired by similar efforts at other zoos around the country, Mars said. It was a good fit, because the zoo shares the Y's "mission to have a healthy lifestyle," she said. "(So) we asked (the Y) to chat about the possibilities."
Adrover and her supervisor, Daniel O'Connor, studied the zoo's map. Then, they visited the zoo and used an iPhone app to track their steps along six different paths.
"He's much taller than I am, (so) we took the average of our strides," said Adrover, who helped name all the paths.
The longest route, which takes about 2,540 steps, is called Zip Around the Zoo. The shortest, called Tiger Trek, is about 900 steps. Participants, called "zoo walkers," can find the paths on the Virginia Zoo smart phone app, or on paper maps available at the zoo's membership office. At 10 a.m. on the first Monday of each month through August, visitors can follow the paths with a YMCA guide.
The guided walks will feature a talk about a health-related topic, plus periodic stops for other exercise. What you'll see at the zoo depends on what path you pick.
"You're going to see something different every time," Mars said.
And in the process, Adrover said, you'll burn a lot of calories.
"You will be surprised by how many steps you take when you walk around the zoo," Mars said.
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