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A Blast from the Past: Evolving Through 20 years at the Akron Zoo

Wednesday, May 22, 2019 1:23:00 PM Categories: Zoo Tales

May 22, 2019

By Olivia Orolin, Communications Intern

The Akron Zoo is full of history as well as people, animals, and change. Although the zoo has undergone many changes since 1953, we decided to reflect on the past 20 years and how they have significantly affected the zoo we know and love today. Through all these changes, there has been one constant: we provide up-close, nose-to-nose experiences with wildlife. The opportunity for these intimate encounters inspires us all. Let’s take a look back through time to see what’s changed. 


1999

  • Opening of Maxene’s Asian Trail where our red pandas, who’s previous habitat was in an old bird enclosure, were joined by endangered white-naped cranes and barking deer. 

2000

  • Summit County voters passed a 0.8 million countywide property tax raising $56 million in seven years to support operating costs and capital improvements- a major milestone in the zoo’s history. The commitment of support by Summit County voters was truly a big leap forward for the zoo and everyone in Summit County.

2001

  • The City of Akron and the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority (AMHA) agreed to lease city park land and adjacent land owned by AMHA to the zoo, doubling its total acreage from 26 to 52. This gave the zoo one of the largest natural wooded areas of any zoo in the country and gave root to an expanded parking lot. 

2002

  • Wild Prairie habitat opened, featuring burrowing owls, black-tailed prairie dogs and thick-billed parrots.  

2003

  • The 50th anniversary of the Akron Zoo arrived! 
  • The new Barnhardt Family Welcome Center opened, giving a formal gateway into the zoo. 
  • The Lehner Family Zoo Gardens and Penguin Point were completed.  
  • The zoo took a monumental leap forward with the completion of a new vehicle entrance that allowed the Metro Regional Transit Authority bus line to directly access the zoo en route for the first time. 

2005

  • The zoo opened its largest animal habitat expansion to date. The new habitat, Legends of the Wild, featured 10 new animal habitats with endangered species including Andean condors, jaguars, snow leopards, ring-tailed lemurs and Rodriguez fruit bats. 
  • The Komodo Kingdom Education Center opened and focused on providing educational opportunities about wildlife and conservation to the community. This was the first LEED certified building in Summit County. To further the educational offerings of the zoo and encourage learning, the Education Center features classrooms; a gallery that hosts temporary, themed habitats; and permanent animal habitats including Komodo dragons and Galapagos tortoises. 

2008 

  • Jellies: Rhythm in The Blue opened. This was the zoo’s first ever saltwater exhibit which brought guests inches away from vibrant jellyfish. 

2010

  • The Conservation Carousel opened at the zoo. This is the only ride attraction other than the train. All the animals on the carousel were hand carved from wood by a local Ohio business.

2011

  • Farmland was remodeled and a new ride was added. The A&K Wilber Express electric train is completely powered by solar panels. 

2012

  • Journey to the Reef opened to replace Jellies: Rhythm in the blue. The habitat featured 18 aquariums and over 40 aquatic species that live on or near the reef, including live coral and a stingray touch pool. 

2013

  • The Mike & Mary Stark Grizzly Ridge marks the biggest expansion to date. This was designed as a sustainable campus. Habitats feature grizzly bears, red wolves, coyotes and North American river otters.

2016

  • Journey to the Reef closed, and planning for the new Curious Creature’s habitat began. 
  • The Monarch Waystation opened, allowing guests to view the beautiful Monarch butterflies. 
  • The parking lot was expanded, and alternative transportation shelters and paths were added. The canal bike trail connection and shelter at the zoo were also opened to the public. 
  • Holiday lighting event, Wild Lights, event was brought back after a 16-year hiatus. 

2017

  • Curious Creatures opened to the public. This habitat allows guests to view animals such as naked mole-rats, electric eels, leaf cutter ants, and a giant Pacific octopus. Carnivorous plants like Venus fly traps and pitcher plants are also available to viewers. 

2019

  • Pride of Africa, a new habitat coming in June, will reflect the beauty and mystery of the savannas of Kenya. This habitat will feature African Lions, Speke’s gazelles, and storks. 

As we think forward to the next 20 years of your Akron Zoo, words like anticipation and excitement come to mind. Something new is always right around the corner: from new habitats, updates to our existing ones, new animals, and even remodels. We cannot wait to keep you all up to date on all the changing aspects of your Akron Zoo.