By Kathy Antoniotti
Beacon Journal staff writer
Visitors can’t seem to see enough of Jackson and Cheyenne and their new digs.
Akron Zoo officials announced Wednesday that during the last week of September, the park set an annual attendance record with 332,960 guests. They credit their newest exhibit, Mike & Mary Stark Grizzly Ridge, for surpassing the year-old previous record.
President and CEO L. Patricia Simmons said the zoo’s total attendance to date is more than 336,000 guests, with about 50 percent of the visitors coming to the zoo since Grizzly Ridge opened July 20.
“Our staff and volunteers have worked hard to provide our visitors with more animals, more education and more exhibits. With the community’s support and feedback, they have helped create up-close experiences with some of the world’s most amazing creatures,” Simmons said.
In a year of superlatives, perhaps the most significant occurred four days after Grizzly Ridge opened. On July 24, the zoo shattered a record that had stood for more than five decades — single-day attendance — when more than 6,300 people walked through the Barnhardt Family Welcome Center.
On April 23, 1957, more than 5,700 people visited the zoo. On that day, the Akron Beacon Journal, in conjunction with Akron Children’s Zoo, launched a campaign to raise money to add a chimpanzee to the park.
Children were urged to send pennies, nickels and dimes to the “Change for Chimp” campaign with a goal of raising $600.
Less than a month later, with $918.92 collected, Joe CoCo made his debut, arriving in Akron in a convertible with a police escort.
“Joe CoCo was an icon. To this day Joe CoCo remains a zoo celebrity, talked about by people who were around in the 1950s,” David Barnhardt, director of marketing and guest services, said Wednesday.
The zoo’s new stars are Jackson and Cheyenne, 2-year-old orphaned grizzly bears from Wyoming. The animals weigh about 300 pounds each and are expected to more than double their weight when full grown.
The $7.7 million Grizzly Ridge, the largest exhibit to open in the zoo’s 60-year history, covers 4 acres and also features river otters, red wolves, bald eagles and a walk-in aviary, home to many local species of birds and a field guide to help beginning birders identify them.
Soon, coyotes are expected to join the zoo menagerie with a new exhibit on the Grizzly Ridge hilltop as part of the continued expansion, Barnhardt said.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.