Jackson the grizzly bear gave Aaron Davis a surprise for his birthday.
As the little boy peered through the glass at the two new grizzly bears at the Akron Zoo, the 320-pound Jackson climbed up the glass to take a look at the little boy.
“They aren’t shy,” said Eric Albers, one of the zoo’s curators.
Aaron, who turned 2 on Saturday, came to the zoo with his parents, Matt and Stephanie Davis, and his 2-month-old sister, Amber, to check out the $12.8 million Grizzly Ridge exhibit that opened to the public for the first time.
“It is fantastic,” said Matt Davis, 31, of Wadsworth.
The Davises were among 1,548 people who attended on opening day. On Friday night, 4,755 zoo members attended a sneak preview of the exhibit, said Machelle Syx, special events manager.
Jackson and his sister, Cheyenne, 280 pounds and the one with dark circles around her eyes, will eventually grow to be about 800 pounds.
The bear exhibit is the most expensive addition in the zoo’s history. Officials said it primarily was funded through Summit County taxpayers but also with private donations.
The two grizzly bears were born in Wyoming two years ago and brought to Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, where they stayed before coming to the Akron Zoo last month.
The new exhibit — which covers four of the zoo’s 52 acres — is more than just the two grizzly bears.
It includes a walk-in aviary that houses about 50 birds but will eventually have 60 birds and about 18 species, all native to the area.
There are also two female red wolves named Rue and Katniss, a bald eagle exhibit, river otter exhibit and a coyote exhibit that will have coyotes on display in August.
At the entrance of the exhibit, officially called Mike & Mary Stark Grizzly Ridge, stands a wood statue of a grizzly bear and her two cubs made by Michael Blaine of White Haven, Pa. There also are statues of a raccoon and an eagle.
The Starks are longtime zoo supporters and Mike Stark is the past chairman of the zoo board.
Grizzly bears have some history in Akron.
Grizzly Ridge was built in the same location as the original bear exhibit in 1918 before the formation of the Akron Zoo in what was then Perkins Woods Park.
Grizzly Ridge is also located along the historic Portage Path, the ancient Native American pathway that connected the Cuyahoga River to the Tuscarawas River.
A Portage Path trail arrowhead marker is located at the exhibit, which includes a dig site for children that will enable them to find artifacts that could have been found along the trail 10,000 years ago.
One of the viewing areas at Grizzly Ridge was designed to resemble canal-era buildings from the 1850s, similar to Akron’s historic Mustill Store.
Gabe McElhaney, his wife and two daughters read about the opening of the exhibit on the zoo website and decided to drive to Akron for the day to see the bears.
“It’s pretty incredible,” said McElhaney, 32, of Massillon. “I wasn’t expecting all this.”
Autumn Russell, the zoo’s director of education, hopes the new aviary will attract people who want to learn about bird watching.
“Birding is a really popular hobby,” she said. “This is really showing people the birds we have that are native and how you can do things in your own backyard.”
Albers said the grizzly bears each eat 3 to 4 pounds of a dry food mixture of dog food and “omnivore biscuit” made for bears, along with about a pound of produce a day.
“They really like sweet potatoes,” he said.
The Davis family was happy that Jackson greeted them at the glass window of the exhibit.
“They have obviously captured a natural setting, which is great,” Matt Davis said.
Stephanie Davis was thrilled Jackson pulled up so close for her kids to get a good view.
“It is really cool that the kids can be so close to the animals,” she said.
The zoo which was founded in 1953 is open 361 days a year. Zoo hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is $10 for adults and $7 for children. Children under 2 are admitted free and parking is $2.
For more information, go to www.akronzoo.org or call 330-375-2550.
By Jim Carney - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)
©2013 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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