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Grizzly Ridge readies for July 20 opening

7/11/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

The new aviary at the Akron Zoo will be the home for more than 60 species of birds. Visitors can walk over a suspension bridge to a tree house structure to view birds up close.
This bald eagle is one of several that will be part of a new exhibit at the Akron Zoo’s Mike and Mary Stark Grizzly Ridge.
WEST AKRON — Grizzly bears once roamed the Akron area. Now they’re back.

Animals like the bears are the focus of the Akron Zoo’s latest expansion. The Mike and Mary Stark Grizzly Ridge exhibit is named after Mike and Mary Stark, of Copley, two of the zoo’s most ardent supporters and friends. It will open to the public July 20, and the exhibit will mark the return of the bears to the zoo and show for the first time red wolves and coyotes.

The exhibit’s focus is the result of feedback from the community, said David Barnhardt, the zoo’s director of marketing and guest services.

“We have been hearing from people that they’d like us to get animals from Ohio,” Barnhardt said.

The exhibit has been under construction for more than a year on the hill that previously was the site for Monkey Island and also featured otters, waterfowl, tortoises, bald eagles and the old bear exhibit.

Grizzly bears may not be top of mind when it comes to native Ohio animals, but Barnhardt said they used to roam in Ohio many years ago. They were also part of the bear exhibit first created in 1918 that was the precursor for what would become the zoo, he said.

The two new bears, Jackson and Cheyenne, come to Akron with an interesting history. Barnhardt said the brother and sister were orphaned in the wild in Wyoming. Wildlife officials there heard that the Akron Zoo was looking for grizzly bears, so they contacted the zoo. But at the time, the zoo had nowhere to put the animals, Barnhardt said.

Shown is the exterior façade of the bear exhibit, which was designed to look like Akron’s Mustill Store. In front of it is an excavation area that children can dig in to find artifacts.
Photos: Ken Crisafi
Akron Zoo officials worked with the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, which agreed to house the young bears until Akron’s new exhibit space was ready. The bears arrived in Akron in June and were quarantined for 30 days, Barnhardt said.

He added the bears are 2 years old and now weigh about 300 pounds. They can reach weights of 1,000 pounds when fully grown, he said.

The bears will be housed in an expansive exhibit area nestled into the hill. Barnhardt said it’s the largest exhibit in the zoo, at 16,400 square feet. Visitors will have two separate viewing areas from which to watch the animals.

Adjacent to the bears is the zoo’s new river otter exhibit, which allows children the chance to act like an otter with a tube slide that takes riders under the animals’ water tank.

There will be three otters in the exhibit, which is much bigger than the zoo’s previous otter exhibit, Barnhardt said.

Two red wolves and two coyotes are also on exhibit in that area. Barnhardt said the wolves are from the Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, Ill., and the coyotes are from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Wildlife Research Center in Logan, Utah. Both species are new to the zoo, he added.

Below the hill, the new exhibit includes a walk-in aviary that features 60 species of birds. There are two entrances to the aviary, which is surrounded by netting to keep the birds inside. The site also includes a suspension bridge to a treehouse structure.

The zoo’s five bald eagles get their own new space in an area that is twice as large as their previous spot in the zoo, Barnhardt said. Children also will enjoy the new Eagle’s Play Nest, a large nest on springs on which they can climb and bounce.

Zoo visitors can access Grizzly Ridge from two entrances. One is from the Farmland exhibit and the other is near Tiger Valley and the red panda exhibit. At that entrance, the zoo is planning to have chainsaw-carved trees of a grizzly bear and eagle on display, Barnhardt said.

Throughout the exhibit, stone and natural wood are used to give it a rustic feel. Barnhardt also said the zoo used sustainable materials and “green” practices, such as impervious concrete on walkways.

Barnhardt said the zoo, which has added many new exhibits over the past few years, funded the improvements through the county property tax levy that is up for renewal this November.

“With that levy, we can build the zoo, operate the zoo and keep admission rates affordable,” Barnhardt said. “It’s extremely important to the future of the park.”

As for the future, he said zoo officials are talking to community members and gathering feedback on what additions, if any, will take place in the future at the zoo, which has room to grow.

Grizzly Ridge will open July 19 for a special zoo members-only preview night from 5 to 9 p.m. Anyone who becomes a member up until that time is eligible for admittance.

The Akron Zoo, located at 500 Edgewood Ave., is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $8.50 for senior citizens, $7 for children ages 2-14 and free for members. Parking is $2. For more information, call 330-375-2550 or go to www.akronzoo.org.

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