Things are looking grizzly at Akron Zoo
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A zoo typically acts a citizen’s way of experiencing the animal world on a small-scale. The zoo is a mirror to the public that reflects the vastness and variation of all the world’s habitats and the fauna and flora that occupy them.
The Akron Zoo is our own mirror of the world, and with the new Grizzly Ridge exhibit, citizens can see a part of the globe that they’re a little more familiar with. The exhibit houses numerous plant and animal species that hit closer to home.
The four-acre Mike and Mary Stark Grizzly Ridge is named after two of the zoo’s longtime committed contributors and friends. The roughly $13 million attraction boasts the largest exhibit built in the zoo’s 60-year history and features six smaller habitats with dozens of species that live in the western and northeastern portions of the United States, which includes Ohio.
Walking upon the entrance to Grizzly Ridge, patrons will find the bald eagle exhibit. Five proudly perched eagles stand in their small habitat, looking out onto their audience. The birds, unable to fly because of injuries sustained while in the wild, are housed safely in the zoo in an effort to conserve the endangered species.
“The zoo has never presented this many bald eagles in one exhibit before,” said David Barnhardt, the director of marketing and guest services at the Akron Zoo. “We have three adults and two juveniles, who will receive their signature white plumage around their heads and yellow beaks upon aging.”
Traversing further up the ridge, visitors will stumble upon the 45-foot high aviary, which is an enclosed exhibit that people can enter so that they are literally surrounded by the wildlife. Visitors can explore the tree house and look out onto the birds while standing on a suspended bridge 16 feet in the air.
The aviary features 65 total birds and 15 different species that are found around the local area. An identification card is provided to the viewers in order for them to match a bird to its species.
“The birds you see in the aviary are birds you would see on a daily basis, just looking out in your backyard or in the trees in your neighborhood,” said Barnhardt. “We want people to be able to identify the birds here and then while they’re out in their neighborhoods to go ‘hey that’s a cardinal, I saw one at the zoo.’”
Next to the aviary is a playground. The river otter’s playground, to be exact. Three adorable otters, Emme, Molly and Porthos, inhabit this exhibit and can be found shooting through the 30,000 gallon tank of water provided for them. Next to the grizzly bear exhibit, the playful otters have been the big hit for zoo patrons. To play along with the otters, kids (and adventurous adults) can ride the otter slide, which goes underwater through the exhibit.
Marie Burch, a Tallmadge resident, says that the otter exhibit is her favorite.
“The viewing area is especially nice, you can see the otters from several different angles,” said Burch. “The area around the Grizzly Ridge exhibit is so clean and outdoorsy — it’s very authentic.”
Across from the otters is the main attraction of Grizzly Ridge: the grizzly bears. Two orphaned bears from Wyoming, Cheyenne and Jackson are given the largest exhibit in the zoo to live in, complete with a pool and heated rocks for the colder winter months.
Upon approaching the end of the Grizzly Ridge exhibit, two different species of canine are encountered: the red wolf and coyote. The red wolves are named Rue and Katniss, after characters from the hit novel “The Hunger Games” with the same names. The coyotes, still too young to be put on exhibit, will premiere in September. During the month, a naming contest will be held to see what the names of the pups will be.
According to Barnhardt, the idea of Grizzly Ridge started when people started leaving comments for the zoo, asking for a new exhibit featuring wildlife found around the area. The exhibit, funded primarily through taxpayers in Summit County, finally opened in July, over a year after construction began. Since the opening, people have been scrambling to the zoo to get a peak at all of the new animals.
“We’ve had a record-high number of people coming to see this new exhibit,” said Barnhardt. “One day we reached the second highest number of people in the zoo ever, and it’s all thanks to Grizzly Ridge.”
Besides reaching out to the community and responding to what the people ask for, Barnhardt also explains that the goals of the new exhibit include educating children on wildlife and conservation, as well as increasing the “green aspects” of the zoo.
“Primarily we want people to learn about the animals and hopefully be able to identify species they could find in their own backyards,” said Barnhardt. “It’s all about educating people about animals and showing them that they aren’t as far from the wildlife as they think.”
And according to Christa Schmidt, a mother from Wadsworth, the education is one of the most important parts.
“A major point of the exhibit I would say is the educational experience for the kids, to learn about animals and appreciate them,” said Schmidt.
Throughout the exhibit, children can play on several attractions, including a large bird’s nest and a small excavation center, where they can find artifacts from Portage Path, an old Indian trail that connected the Cuyahoga and Tuscarawas River. There are also many signs with information about the animals, where they can be found and what they eat.
To promote the idea of conservation and recycling, several green aspects have been added to Grizzly Ridge, including rain barrels and pervious concrete, which allows rainwater to flow through the path and into collectors that filter the water for reuse.
Grizzly Ridge is currently open and will remain open year-round. For more information on the exhibit and to purchase tickets, go online to www.akronzoo.org.