Our Akron zoo continues to expand

Written by: Beau Brown

With 52 acres and over 700 different animal species, the Akron Zoo is a global experience available to us right in our backyard.

From lemurs to leopards, lions to lionfish, and condors to the cute red panda, the wide spectrum of animals at the zoo is guaranteed to entertain any guest. Every space provided for the animals is made in the likeness of the habitat they are typically found in across the planet. The plants and animals provide a window into the wilds of the African savannah, the rainforests of Asia and South America, the farmlands of North America, and so much more.

In addition to the wildlife is the Lehner Family Garden, an award-winning garden with over 8,000 plants and 35 species, all grown in Northeast Ohio. The colorful garden also has several fountains and is a hot spot for photography. The plants grown there are also used as food for some of the animals in the zoo.

The zoo already has much to offer, but according to David Barnhardt, the Director of Marketing and Guest Services, it’s only going to continue growing.

“We add something new to the zoo every year,” Barnhardt said. “We lease land from the City of Akron and recently passed a levy. With the money we get from the levy, plus revenue, we can afford to pay for new additions annually.”

Last year, the zoo added the Conservation Carousel, which is located in the middle of the zoo and has seats that are carved in the shapes of animals. This year, the Zoo unveiled the Journey to the Reef exhibit. Inside you can find many species of fish, as well as stingrays, jellyfish, and the newly-added giant octopus. You can even visit the touch tank and stroke the backs of stingrays.

“The carousel is very popular with the children who come and visit, and the Journey to the Reef exhibit has been a huge success, especially the touch tank,” Barnhardt said. “This proves that our new additions pay off in the end, so it’s worth expanding the zoo every year.”

Currently the zoo is in construction of its largest expansion yet: the “Grizzly Ridge” exhibit, scheduled to premier next year. It will be home to several grizzly bears, wolves, otters, bald eagles, and other animals found in North American forests.

Barnhardt believes that every innovation and addition to the park will attract more people and increase park revenue.

“Every time the zoo expands, we find that our popularity has increased and we have gotten a wider variety of customers,” Barnhardt said. “We started out as a small zoo with only a few attractions, but we’ve gradually gotten bigger. And now, instead of people spending one hour at the park, we have people who spend several hours here in order to fully enjoy everything the park has to offer. It just keeps getting better.”

The zoo is also becoming more environmentally friendly by working with members of the GoGreen project.

“This year, the zoo aimed at having a ‘no trash’ agenda,” Barnhardt said. “We have educators in the zoo who teach people about the importance of recycling and have upped zoo maintenance so we can reduce the amount of trash in the park.”

The zoo also uses rainwater on the plants, recycles plates and cups in the cafe, and has a fully-operational solar-powered train.

Barnhardt also expects to see more college students as the park grows. The zoo has already designed events aimed towards college-age adults, such as Brew at the Zoo, where locally-owned beer companies come to the zoo and sell their products to college students. As the zoo progresses and adds more exhibits, Barnhardt hopes to attract more adults.

The Akron Zoo is a great place to spend an afternoon, and is an excellent learning experience to boot. For events and information, visit the zoo’s website at www.akronzoo.org