Great food and entertainment, combined with the unique atmosphere of Wildlife Prairie State Park adds up to a season-ending adventure many families are looking for. "It’s similar to ’Taste of’ events, except ours is geared for the whole family," explained Wildlife Prairie State Park General Manager Lisa Holmes.

Prairie a la Carte takes place on the brick area near the Visitor Center, a prime location to showcase the plentiful food choices. "We host approximately 10 food vendors from local restaurants, including our own exclusive caterer, Heart of American Restaurants & Inns (HOA). Visitors may purchase the vendors’ wonderful food with Prairie Bucks, which we sell for $1 each. Food consists of everything from brats and pork chops to kabobs, pizza, ice cream, snow cones, and more," Holmes said.

While the food may be the main draw for some, musical entertainment is a big part of the fun. "Live music featuring the very popular Jam Sammich takes place on Saturday, and the wonderful Wade Dooley performs on Sunday. The biggest challenge we face is weather. Last year, Saturday was great, but it rained all day and night on Sunday. We still hosted approximately 300 visitors in the Prairie Hall banquet facility, where we had to move Wade Dooley and his band, so not all was lost. It was actually a great show," she said.

In addition to the live music and dining options, Prairie a la carte also offers hayrack rides for $2 and a petting area for children.

The event, now entering its third year, was the idea of HOA Representative Dennis Cox. "He’d been to Milwaukee Zoo, where they feature Zoo a la Carte. We visited with the manager of the Milwaukee Zoo and learned more about the event. The biggest attraction for us was how the event was fun for the whole family. Our goal is to offer a unique and fun experience while educating about our native animals," she said.

Holmes said guests’ responses to Prairie a la Carte has been positive in years past. "It’s been great. Our visitors like the family atmosphere, and all of our revenue goes back into the Park to help support operations."

Prairie a la Carte is only one of many special events Wildlife Prairie State Park offers throughout the year. Holmes said, "This year we’ve already hosted Wellness Weekend in the Wild; Bunny Breakfast; the Giant Easter Egg Hunt; Wildlife Trail Classic; Rock, Reptile & Aquatics Show; and Prairie Days/Wildlife Rendezvous. Upcoming is Member Appreciation Day, Llamas on the Prairie, Wildlife Scary Park, Thanksgiving Dinner, Old Fashioned Christmas, and Holiday Brunch. Our education Department also holds ’Starlight Walks’ once a month and ’Night in the Wild’ events."

And how does the state-run, not-for-profit organization do all of this? The credit goes to the staff, Holmes said. "The Park staff does a wonderful job of making all of our events go smoothly, so come and enjoy the fun."

Prairie a la Carte takes place from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., September 4 and 5. Regular park admission of $5.50 for adults and $3.50 for children four to 12 gets families into the special event. For more information, call 676-0998. AA!