Wheaton’s Zoo—Your Adventure Awaits

Issue 4: Hidden Gems of Wheaton: The Cosley Zoo

If you don’t know about the Cosley Zoo, you are missing out! They offer so many family-friendly adventures and events—it truly is a local Hidden Gem!


Back in 1973, Ms. Paula Jones donated almost three acres of land to the Wheaton Park District. She dedicated it to honor a close relative, former land owner Mr. Harvey Cosley. Her vision for the land was that it should not be developed, but used as a space cherishing green spaces and nature.

Thus, the Cosley Children’s Park and Museum was founded. It opened in August of 1974, and the park featured a handful of farm animals. It didn’t take long to really blossom. Later that year, it welcomed native wildlife. In addition, a barn from the 1800s was moved from Downtown Wheaton—from the grounds of St. John’s Lutheran Church—to the growing nature park.

The following couple of years ushered in many exciting changes for the local feature. It became Cosley Animal Farm and Museum. In 1975, the retired Burlington railroad caboose found a new home at the museum. Given its momentum and success, the facility was able to expand by two acres, due to federal revenue sharing funds. Exciting times were rolling into the station!

Cosley Zoo, Wheaton, Illinois - Park & Family Fun

In the 1980s, an aviary was introduced. It displayed a variety of pheasants, doves and other birds. It now houses native turtles and birds. In addition, successful fundraising led to the establishment of The Cosley Foundation. This organized entity [501(C)3] was better able to organize fundraising and make strategic investments in the zoo. For instance, they have sponsored the development of the Vern Kiebler Learning Center, a massive duck pond, an amphitheater, and multiple animal exhibits.

The Vern Kiebler Learning Center was of particular significance. In 1987, it was officially completed. It houses domestic farm animals, provides supplies/food storage and hospital areas for the animals, and includes a large educational space. This facility allowed the Cosley Zoo to stay open all year long, even in the bitter Chicago winters!

“The Cosley Zoo” name was adopted in 1999 to better reflect the current offerings at the park. The very next year, they were accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) after a rigorous application process.

Over the course of the next 20+ years, the Cosley Zoo has continued to be the source of important education and conservation. They established a bobcat exhibit, worked with groups to help preserve endangered species, created interactive educational displays in the train caboose, hosted popular events including Halloween and Christmas festivities, and more.

During 2019 the zoo began to make concerted efforts to ensure that Cosley Zoo can connect all guests to conservation. This began with the zoo initiating its own Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team and becoming certified by KultureCity and Giant Steps to ensure a sensory friendly environment. Read more history & background on the Cosley Zoo website.


The Cosley Zoo offers a variety of events and programming throughout the year. Their Halloween and Christmastime events are well know. During the fall, they sell pumpkins, have fun activities for kids, and sometimes sponsor carnival rides. The winter ushers in Christmas season, when they sell Christmas trees and other festive decorations and gifts.

Perhaps not as well known, they also support fun events year round, including:

  • Run for the Animals, in June
  • Mike Williams Cosley Classic Golf Outing, in August
  • Family Enrichment Workshops (ongoing)
  • Cosley Zoo Uncorked Wine Tasting, in September
  • And much more!

Check out all our local, Hidden Gem has to offer at their website: The Cosley Zoo

Help them continue to do great work, host wonderful events, and make education fun for the next generation: Give to the Cosley Zoo Foundation