Before you read another single word, I have to disclose that I am a bit of crier.

Not your smash-a-finger-with-a-hammer-on-the-weekend kind of crier — although I do cry then, too — but your way-too-sentimental-Hallmark-movie kind of crier.

So I was pretty much doomed to some “Hey, there must be a lot of pollen in air” moments on a recent trip to one of my favorite amusement parks — Kennywood — just outside Pittsburgh.

The park is a perfect blend of nostalgic rides, goofy architecture and my personal favorite — fun houses and dark rides.

Kennywood recently opened a great new area for kids that is dedicated to all things Thomas the Tank Engine.

Three of our five kids are boys, so we had a long run with Thomas starting with videotapes and later DVDs along with our own train shed full of all the toy engines. Even our now adult girls still quote some of the lines from the show that was the soundtrack to our lives.

I was as eager to visit the new Thomas attractions during our visit at Kennywood as I was to take a trip on some of the park’s classic roller coasters.

But I was pleasantly surprised by how excited two of our boys, now 10 and 13, were to wander into the new section of the park that looks like a page straight out of a Reverend W. Awdry book.

Once you walk through the archway, you are greeted by the familiar theme song and other ditties from the show and find yourself immersed in the Island of Sodor.

And there’s even a large as life Thomas engine that chugs along a track and takes visitors on a trip along the former route of the Olde Kennywood Railroad.

Before we could even set foot inside the area that features some five different attractions, including a giant Cranky the Crane where riders bounce up and down, we were derailed by the face painters who, for a fee, will cover your entire face with a Thomas character.

I had three Webbheads in tow and all three wanted to have their faces painted — even though this meant wandering around the park for the rest of the day with trains covering their faces while standing in line to ride those terrifying big-kid rides.

While geared toward tiny tots, many of the attractions in the Thomas area still welcome kids at heart including a fun attraction where the riders climb on top of a firetruck, named Flynn by the way, and ride a ladder up and down while spraying water on a faux burning building.

My boys were by far the tallest on the firetruck ride, but they had fun nonetheless.

The park’s 4D movie theater is featuring a Thomas movie this summer that has more bubbles flying in the air than you could ever imagine.

Watching the kids laugh and reminisce about a beloved character from their childhood reminded me of a family trip to Universal in Orlando a few years back where we took in a Barney show.

Once again, ours were probably among the oldest kids in the theater but soon their age melted away and they were laughing and singing along with a dear old purple friend.

And, just like at Kennywood, their dear old dad sat there with tears streaming down his cheek grumbling about there being too much nostalgia in the air making my eyes water.

The Thomas attraction at Kennywood is included with park admission. Regular admission is $49.99 for adults and $33.99 for kids, although discounts are available online at kennywood.com.

Craig Webb can be reached at 330-996-3547 or [email protected].

It’s been around since the Disco Era, but after Labor Day, a ride that has been a staple at Cedar Point will have its last spin.

The amusement park has announced that it is removing the Witches Wheel situated on the park’s midway near the Magnum XL-200.

The Huss Enterprise ride made its debut at Cedar Point in 1977 and has given some 24 million rides since.

Park spokesman Tony Clark said the ride that spins guests in a circle and upside down is being removed for future expansion.

But Clark said the park isn’t quite ready to announce the plans for the site just yet.

The ride is set to close Sept. 3.

Since the existing ride’s footprint is relatively small, some amusement park enthusiasts are speculating that another so-called flat ride will take its place.

Craig Webb can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.

The design for the artwork had been kicking around Don Drumm’s head and on the workbench in his Akron studio since 2013.

It was just waiting for right moment and the right client.

So when the folks from LeBron James’ foundation reached out a few months ago with a request for a sculpture from the city’s most notable artist for the NBA star’s new I Promise School on West Market Street, Drumm knew he had finally found a home for his Tree of Life installation.

Like most of his work, Drumm said, this particular piece is abstract. But he readily admits its soaring shapes reaching toward the sky certainly resemble a tree.

And at 15 feet tall, it certainly makes a statement outside of the new school that will help a select group of Akron kids stay in school and on the path to a tuition-free education at the University of Akron after high school.

But like all of his works, it started small — a seed of inspiration.

Drumm creates a small model of a new artwork out of cardboard, and complex blueprints are drawn up that are then sent off to a steel fabricating plant in North Carolina, where the art takes shape.

He uses the plant to create sculpture pieces that are way too big to fabricate in his Akron studio. To ensure everything is done just right, Drumm monitors the progress via photos on the internet.

The tall steel sculpture that was installed in Akron last week sits atop a disc that is some 8 feet in diameter.

The sculpture is made from an all-weather steel that is 7 percent copper. “It is made to rust,” Drumm said.

And rust it will for the next four to six years, building up a coating that will be a deep purple and brown color. This coat of rust, Drumm said, actually preserves the artwork for years to come.

Everything with the fabricating and installation of Tree of Life was going smoothly until it came time to load it onto a truck for the trek to Akron.

Because of its cylindrical shape, Drumm said, it almost rolled off the trailer. A special temporary brace had to be welded onto it for the journey here.

Its design is for those viewing it to draw inspiration to grow and learn.

“It is meant to be a piece of sculpture that depends heavily on the sun to create shadows,” he said. “And those shadows vary depending on the time of a day and the weather conditions.

“It will not be the same shadows on a cloudy day as it will have on a sunny day.”

On one of the tree’s trunks, the words “I promise” are cut in. Drumm’s signature is on another.

Drumm said it was great to partner with James and have one of his artworks dedicated to inspire the kids in his foundation when the school opens its doors Monday.

“I was just waiting to find the right client for this piece.”

And Michele Campbell, executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation, said the artwork fits perfectly at the new school.

“It’s important that the I Promise School is a place where our students and their families feel welcome and at home, so for us, there’s no better way to greet them than with this signature piece from Akron’s own Don Drumm,” Campbell said. “So much of the Akron community has been intentionally woven into the school so that it truly is a transformational place that will uplift the entire community.”

Craig Webb can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.

Everyone just needs to chill.

No really. Enjoy the summer cold snap while it lasts.

With high temperatures in the 80s into the foreseeable future — the National Weather Service says highs in the 90s are not expected over the next week or so.

The weather service on Wednesday said despite the break in the heat, summer 2018 is proving to be a real scorcher.

“We are well above last year’s pace for 90-degree days,” the weather service says.

So far there have been 13 days of temperatures of 90 degrees or more at the Akron-Canton Airport this summer.

By comparison, there had been just four days last year — also considered to be a warm one — where the temperature had hit 90 degrees or more by July 17.

And for the whole summer of 2017, there were 14 days in the 90s in Akron.

We are already just one day shy of that tally with a lot of summer left to go before fall arrives.

The average number of 90-degree days in a typical summer in Akron is eight days.

The warmest day over the next few days, the weather service says, will be Friday when it could hit 86 degrees.

It looks like a rainy weekend could be on tap with showers and thunderstorms in the forecast on both Saturday and Sunday.

There is also a chance of rain showers on Friday.

The warmest year on record in Akron was in 2012 and that summer tied 2010 for the sixth steamiest in the city’s history. The next warmest year on record for Akron was in 1931.

Craig Webb can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.

The gravity of my situation quickly became apparent.

From a distance, the slope of the famous 989-foot track at Akron’s Derby Downs doesn’t look that impressive.

But try walking up the hill to Topside, and it will quickly make quite an impression on an out-of-shape old man like me.

And once you get inside one of the wooden race cars — that appropriately in my humble opinion resemble the shape of a coffin — it all gets pretty real, pretty fast.

Much to my surprise, there were no insurance waivers to sign or next of kin paperwork to fill out when I tried my luck to set a track record there last week.

The race folks just offer a friendly “good luck” and “have fun” before pulling the latch to send you hurtling to a certain death.

They did make me wear a helmet.

I noted that it was cracked.

“Must be the heat,” one worker surmised.

I asked whether it was the result of a previous racer catapulting end over end across the finish line.

They assured me there have been no major incidents among the adults who have climbed aboard special big-sized Derby cars in the past.

They did note there was one instance where two kids at heart collided mid-run and spun out locking the cars together.

“It bent the axle and pushed it into one of the cars,” one worker recalled.

It has brakes

Before I could say, “Hey, hey, hey … wait a minute,” they quickly moved on to one safety tip they needed to share.

They told me in a serious tone to be sure to brake.

As in brake at the bottom of the hill before you break a leg in the gravel pit at the end of the track and end up squashed by an airplane on a runway at the Akron Fulton International Airport next door.

They pointed out that the brake was by my right foot. It is a simple wooden pedal that looked like it was salvaged from the original derby cars back in the 1930s.

Oh yeah, they added, don’t apply it until you reach the finish line.

And don’t slam it. Apply it gently off and on until the coffin, er, car comes to a stop.

OK. Just for the record, and this will become relevant in mere seconds, this seemed like an awful lot to remember without a lawyer or someone from OSHA present.

And as you sit in the car with your bucket resting mere feet from the hot black asphalt track the gentle slope doesn’t seem so gentle any more and one’s mind wanders.

Simple plan

I tried to keep a simple game plan:

1. Keep my pointy head low. I didn’t want any wind resistance as there is an overall track record to be set. The current one that seemed very beatable is 28.24 seconds set by a young ’un back in 2004.

2. Close my eyes. I quickly realized this was probably not a good idea since there’s the whole matter of steering the car to avoid becoming one with a guardrail.

3. Hold on to my cellphone for dear life. It seems my editors wanted a record of my spectacular demise to perhaps get some good clicks on our website. The suction cup on a GoPro I brought along to capture my ride wouldn’t stick to the car so we had to go with Plan D where I hold onto my phone with one hand and steer the car with the other.

All this planning went out of the window very quickly when the worker at the switch to release the car went into her final spiel.

She sounded very much like an auctioneer as she said: “All right. 1, 2, 3. Go.”

Click.

Um. Wait?

But with that the car slowly lurched forward down the hill.

And there’s no defying gravity as the car quickly picked up steam.

Breakneck speed

Before I knew it, I was flying down the track at breakneck speed weaving slightly right to left to right at what felt like about 150 miles per hour.

For the record, track officials say on a good day with a stiff hurricane wind to my back I could have been going 30 mph. I respectfully disagree. I was flying.

The car began to vibrate, and I may or may not have passed out for a bit.

My life passed before my eyes along with the revelation that I may, or may not, have submitted my payroll time sheet for the week.

And before I knew it, I was at the finish line with Derby officials waving their arms in apparent jubilation that a track record had been set.

I waved back and as I whizzed past them, I realized they were not cheering, “Craig, Craig, Craig.”

They were yelling, “Brake, brake, brake.”

Oh yeah. Brrrraaakkkeee!!!

I was like a tap dancer hitting the brake pedal as the white warning strips to stop passed by one by one.

With the last-ditch gravel pit designed to stop a car in its tracks looming closer and closer and the prospect of being the first racer in history to buzz through gravel and onto the runway looking like a certainty, a fleet-footed young Derby worker grabbed my car from behind.

And with that it was over.

Nervous looking Derby officials asked how the ride was.

I had to do a quick check first.

Phone? Check. Still clutched with a death grip in my left hand.

Pointy head? Check. Still attached to my droopy shoulders.

Track record? Nope.

My official, unofficial, official time as recorded on a Derby official’s phone was 31.5 seconds.

No record.

But I may hold the adult record — they are still running the numbers in a supercomputer borrowed from Goodyear — of using the greatest length of the track on a single run.

I guess my hopes for a Derby racing career will end with just a single run.

It is probably best to reserve the track for the true professionals — those 7- to 20-year-old whippersnappers — in town this week for Derby Week.

Craig Webb, who is now considering a run to make Team USA’s Olympic luge team, can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.

Do not panic.

That continuous wail of sirens in downtown Akron on Monday is a good thing.

It marks the beginning of Derby Week in the city as some 425 racers arrive in town for a police escort at Canal Park for the 81st running of the FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby at Akron’s Derby Downs on Saturday.

This is 12 racers more than last year. The racers — all between the ages of 7 and 20 — have competed in qualifying races to represent their hometowns and countries in the grand old race.

The competitors this year are 51 percent boys and 49 percent girls.

Most are from the United States, but a handful have traveled from as far away as Canada, Germany and Japan.

Mark Gerberich, the Soap Box Derby’s president and chief executive officer, said preparations for this week began a year ago when the last racer crossed the finish line.

The goal this year, he said, is to not only be great hosts to the racers from near and far, but also rekindle the city’s love affair with the race.

“Everybody in Akron has a story about the Derby,” he said. “But ask them the last time they came out to a race.”

The first step to help get folks out on Saturday is to offer $5 presale tickets that can be purchased at the Derby offices at 789 Derby Downs Drive or online at aasbd.soapboxderby.org before race day.

Tickets at the gate on Saturday are $8. Tickets are required at the track on Saturday only.

After the racers exchange high-fives and small gifts at the noon kickoff ceremony at Akron’s Lock 3 Park on Monday, it will be all business the rest of the week at Derby Downs as they prepare for Saturday’s run for all the marbles and the chance to be crowned a champion.

The week includes technical inspections of all the cars, along with weigh-ins and some runs on the 989-foot track.

Racers are divided into separate divisions that are determined by their ages and construction skills.

Those ages, 7 to 13, compete in the Stock Car division that uses relatively simple to assembly kits purchased from the All-American Derby headquarters in Akron.

There is another division of kids ages 9 to 18 called the Super Stock division that uses similar cars to that of the Stock Division, but these gravity vehicles are larger in size.

The final division is the Masters for those ages 10 to 20 that uses a more difficult car to construct.

Aside from bragging rights for life, the division champs are competing for some $36,000 in college scholarships, and the University of Akron has offered to match any champions’ scholarships with the caveat that they attend UA and pursue a major in the College of Engineering.

Friday, the Derby will host the National Super Kids Classic where children with special needs compete in two-racer cars piloted by veteran Soap Box Derby racers. Saturday will be busy with the final race and a concert.

From noon to 12:30 p.m., Northeast Ohio guitarist Michael Weber, a winner of MTV’s Amazingness talent competition, will perform.

“We want to make [Saturday] more of an event than just a race,” Gerberich said.

Craig Webb can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.

Tim McCully just can’t stop.

No, really.

He just can’t stop.

As he walks around Sluggers & Putters Amusement Park in Canal Fulton, McCully is always dreaming up new attractions for the super-clean and fun park that was once Stark County farmland.

This year, it is the Battle Creek outdoor laser tag that took over space once occupied by a golf driving range.

It is the largest outdoor laser tag in the state. Some 30 or so combatants can split up into teams and run around a faux battlefield, where the goal is to tag — not kill — opponents.

There’s a military Jeep complete with a mounted machine gun that fires lasers. Another machine gun is mounted on a military vessel that has run aground.

McCully laughs that he’s a collector and can’t bear to part with anything. He rarely buys anything new, but every item in the park is spotless.

The military watercraft is actually an old fishing boat he simply painted green. And the crashed military plane that provides cover for players was acquired in Amish country from a company that specializes in Cessna parts.

He pieced it together from those parts. “It is hard to find a nose cone,” he said, pointing to his nose-free plane.

Former farmland

It’s hard to imagine that the colorful park was once cornfields.

But over the last 27 years, McCully, who grew up in Jackson Township, has slowly built an amusement park by collecting pieces and parts of other parks.

He has a lot of prized possessions, but some of his favorites are from the old Mother Goose Land in Canton.

These nursery rhyme-themed figures and buildings, along with Wizard of Oz props, date back to the 1950s and now call the park’s Adventure Miniature Golf course home.

Golfers walk along the yellow brick road and relive the story as they play along. Sensors trip songs that bring back memories of the classic movie.

The park has a second course, Olde Skool Mini Golf, that opened in 2012 and includes everything from a second airplane to comical themed holes, even one that features an old toilet.

Other relics from Mother Goose Land, such as an assortment of animals and critters, are scattered throughout the park.

The park also offers batting cages and go-carts — the Formula One-themed cars are new this year — but it leaves your typical family fun center in the dust. Unlike its counterparts, this place offers a whopping 24 different attractions, including a climbing wall.

All told, McCully has quietly built himself a respectable amusement park.

A fair number of the rides, including the zippy Lil’ Dipper Roller Coaster — don’t let its pint size fool you — are from the old Americana Amusement Park in Cincinnati.

“We decided in 2015 that we wanted to be an amusement park,” he said.

The rides added since then include a classic Scrambler, along with the Flying Chair Swings.

There’s also a fun bumper boat ride with water spray cannons and a kiddie train.

McCully said he’s particularly proud of his bumper cars, because they are the only ones at a private park that are modeled after NASCAR cars.

It seems the ride manufacturer ran afoul of the racing series and had to suspend making the cars after McCully drove off with his set.

He said folks from NASCAR asked to borrow a car or two a couple years back to create their own similar ride to travel from track to track across the country.

They promised some signed memorabilia that never materialized, but he shrugs it off. Still makes for a great story.

Dedicated to park

McCully started out as a landscaper before settling into being an amusement park tycoon.

“I was my own best customer,” he said of his work planting and expanding the park.

As it demanded more and more of his time, he gave up on landscaping and dedicated his life to the park.

But the seeds of this earlier career can be found throughout the property. Look closely at the immaculate beds and grounds, and mixed in here and there, you will see rows of young plants and trees taking root for landscaping schemes around future attractions.

“Everything here I grow myself,” he said.

And with some 69 acres to expand on, he certainly has room to grow.

He toyed with the idea of adding a water park, but he would like to keep with the old-fashioned theme. He is dreaming of attractions like a log flume ride similar to what Geauga Lake once had, imagining the logs rolling along in chutes down the hills on the other side of the laser tag area.

He almost added a classic Wild Mouse roller coaster a few years back, but it proved too costly to repair and move.

McCully said he would like to get a Tilt-a-Whirl, but those are pretty rare to find anymore. A classic carousel would be nice, too.

“We want to be very retro,” he said.

Family operation

The park is a real family affair. His wife, Rhonda, runs the concessions while he focuses on the rides and operations.

Over the years, he said, all six of his kids — ranging in age from 21 to 41 — have worked there. They have become quite the puzzle solvers, particularly when a newly acquired ride arrives in pieces.

What makes his park special, McCully explained, is that you don’t have to spend a ton of money or time there.

He recalls a recent visit to Disney World, where he noticed that everyone arrived early in the morning with smiles on their faces, but things changed after three or four hours: “No one was smiling anymore.”

Trips to large parks, he mused, have become tests of endurance and patience. And that’s what he thinks makes his countryside amusement park special.

“We don’t have long lines here,” he said. “The longest wait is about eight minutes, and that’s because someone is already on the ride.”

And he’s learned a few things over the years.

One is that you have to run a tight ship, and that goes for his 70 or so summer workers: “If you can’t smile,” he said, “you don’t work for us.”

He also has high expectations of his guests.

“We chase away bad customers,” he said. “Bad customers are bad for good customers.”

The ultimate goal every day, McCully said, is to provide a safe place for families to have fun.

“I tell the kids who work for us that, every day, we are putting on a show.”

Craig Webb, who held on for dear life riding the Lil’ Dipper roller coaster, can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.

Time to mow the lawn.

Time to run around the block.

Time to pull out a jacket.

The heat wave is coming to an end.

Enjoy your respite from the 90-degree heat, because it will be relatively short-lived.

Thanks to a cold front that stormed and rumbled across Northeast Ohio on Thursday, Friday’s high temperature will be in the chilly upper 70s.

Saturday’s high under sunny skies also will be in the upper 70s.

But the 80s are expected to return by Sunday and continue through Thursday, with temperatures flirting with the 90s.

As warm as it has been, it also has been wet.

The National Weather Service says the Akron area is way above normal in the precipitation department.

The weather service measures precipitation in the so-called water year that started Oct. 1 and we were 6.78 inches above normal. This was measured as of July 2 — before a series of gully washers in and around the Fourth of July.

Things should dry out. There’s no rain predicted by the weather service into the foreseeable until showers and storms return on Thursday.

Craig Webb can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.

In the midst of the hottest stretch of weather of the year so far, Ohio tourism folks have announced the creation of the Ohio Ice Cream Trail.

The 15-stop trail that stretches across the state might be more aptly named the Trail of Drips until “cooler” weather arrives later this week when the temperatures are just in the upper 80s.

And one of the spots picked as the best by the state is in Wayne County.

The Hartzler Dairy, just north of Wooster on state Route 3, dates back to the 1950s.

The farm opened a storefront in 1996 and now features its dairy products and ice cream cones with monikers like Ditch Tea Delight — aka mint ice cream with Oreos.

You can even order a cold glass of milk to wash down a chocolate milkshake.

State officials say they tried to focus on local family-owned and nationally recognized ice cream shops from across the state when culling the list.

Also making the cut is the original Handel’s in Youngstown. The store at 3931 Handel’s Court started in a gas station.

Cleveland’s trendy Mitchell’s Homemade Ice Cream at 1867 W. 25th St. in Ohio City also is a stop.

Cleveland is the only city to claim two stops, with the Sweet Moses Soda Fountain and Treat Shop at 6800 Detroit Road making the list as well. It is best known for its 10-scoop Terminal Tower sundae.

The ice cream trail is part TourismOhio’s effort to promote tourism by encouraging multi-day stays within the state.

“As we were creating the Ohio Adventure Trails website this spring, we realized how rich Ohio’s ice cream heritage is and felt creating a statewide ice cream trail could help showcase those businesses,” said Matt MacLaren, director of TourismOhio, in a statement. “The feelings of happiness people experience from connecting with one another over ice cream is a perfect fit with the Ohio ‘Find it Here’ brand.”

To learn more, visit Ohio.org/IceCream to see the complete list along with a downloadable map.

Craig Webb, whose ice cream tastes are fairly boring with cherry vanilla being his favorite, can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.

It’s going to be hotter than a firecracker on the Fourth of July.

No, really.

The warmest stretch of weather so far this year is expected in Northeast Ohio beginning Saturday.

The National Weather Service warns that “dangerous temperatures” will creep in and stick around for a while.

The area is already under a Heat Advisory from noon Saturday to 10 p.m. Saturday as temperatures will be in the 90s with heat index values — what the temperature feels like — well above 100 degrees.

The weather service warns it could be even hotter on Sunday, so the advisory will likely be extended or even upped to an Excessive Heat Warning.

“Keep in mind that conditions will vary locally with urban areas often seeing heat index values higher than nearby rural areas,” the weather service says.

Officials warn the elderly and those sensitive to the heat could be susceptible to stress and heat-related illnesses.

It will offer a hot start to Akron’s popular Rib, White and Blue Festival that runs through the Fourth in downtown Akron.

Rib joints from throughout the country have set up shop and are cooking up saucy dishes over hot grills.

Justin Leonard, a cook with the Carolina Rib King from Spartanburg, S.C., said his day begins around 8 a.m., when the ribs and other meats are thrown in the smoker, and continues well into the night when the last rib is taken off the hot grill to give it that charred taste.

They cook over hot coals, so it’s always well over 200 degrees in and around the grill. So the temperature hitting well into the 90s outside of the tent doesn’t bother him too much.

Leonard said he has a fan to keep him cool, and he drinks plenty of water.

And if things get too hot, he said with a laugh, he just “pulls down his shades [sunglasses] to be cool.”

“I’m from South Carolina so I’m used to the hot weather.”

Given the combination of high temperatures and high humidity, officials say Northeast Ohio residents should try to stay out of the sun, drink plenty of fluids, find an air-conditioned space and check on relatives and neighbors who live in homes that are not air-conditioned.

If you have to work outside, officials suggest scheduling strenuous activities in the early morning or evening and be sure to wear lightweight and loose-fitting clothing. Take frequent breaks and, again, drink plenty of water.

Be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion that could lead to the more serious heat stroke. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say these symptoms include:

• Heavy sweating

• Cold, pale and clammy skin

• Fast, weak pulse

• Nausea or vomiting

• Muscle cramps

• Fatigue

• Dizziness

• Headache

• Faintness

Haven of Rest Executive Director Jeff Kaiser said the doors will be open 24/7 at its center on East Market Street in Akron through the heat wave to allow the city’s homeless to cool off and get a drink or some food.

The staff will keep a watchful eye, Kaiser said, to look for any signs of heat-related stress or illness.

“Anyone can come in and get out of the elements,” he said.

The outlook for any relief is not good. The 90-degree temperatures that are starting Friday are expected to continue all the way through Thursday. The first chance of thunderstorms and rain showers arrives Monday and extends through Thursday.

FirstEnergy spokesman Chris Eck said the utility has been prepared for the heat wave all week and the expected spike in energy consumption as folks and businesses crank up the AC.

Crews have been using so-called “thermovision” cameras that capture infrared images to detect potential problems in substations and on poles and make necessary repairs.

Helicopters were also deployed at the start of the summer season to look for any issues — like low-hanging wires or trees — along the utility’s tens of thousands of miles of transmission lines.

Craig Webb, who will be hiding in a hammock under a shade tree for the foreseeable future, can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.

Starting next week, low-income Summit County residents will have more affordable access to five Akron museums and attractions.

The Akron Art Museum, Akron Children’s Museum, Akron Zoo, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens and Summit County Historical Society announced Thursday they are partnering to offer discounted admissions — ranging from $1 to $3 — to guests who present a U.S. government-issued Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card at the entrance.

The discounts will begin Sunday and include regular general admission, not special events that carry additional costs.

The goal is to reach an underserved audience and open doors for more residents to experience the museums and attractions. It is part of a national effort known as Museums for All that was launched in 2014 by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Association of Children’s Museums.

“Increasing public access is a strategic goal of IMLS, so it’s inspiring to see these five museums stand together in their commitment to provide Akron residents with equitable access for all,” said Paula Gangopadhyay, deputy director for the IMLS Office of Museum Services, in a statement.

Stan Hywet President and Executive Director Sean Joyce helped champion the local initiative and said this shows the collaborative spirit among local museums and attractions.

“Individually, we may be addressing the need in various ways, but together, we can increase our collective reach and impact as a coalition that speaks with one voice,” Joyce said.

The discounted cost per museum and attraction with a valid Electronic Benefits Transfer card:

• Akron Art Museum, 1 S. High St., $3 per adult. Children under 17 years of age are always free. There is a limit of four adults per EBT card.

• Akron Children’s Museum, 216 S. Main St., $1 for each adult and child.

• Akron Zoo, 505 Euclid Ave., $3 for each adult and child. There is a limit of four reduced rate admissions per EBT card.

• Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, 714 N. Portage Path, $3 for each adult. Children and youths under 18 will receive free admission.

• Summit County Historical Society, 550 Copley Road, $1.

The discount can amount to as much as a $16 price break for an adult admission to Stan Hywet.

This is just one more step, said Nicole Mullet, executive director of ArtsNow that works to strengthen the arts and culture sector in Summit County, to open the county’s treasures to more residents.

“In Summit County, we believe arts and culture are for everyone,” Mullet said. “This collaborative initiative, utilizing a successful national program, allows our partners to deliver on their respective missions while cultivating the awareness and diversity that is critical to everyone’s work and the health of our community.”

Akron school Superintendant David W. James hopes this encourages more families to go out and enjoy the arts and cultural institutions the city has to offer.

“Our families will certainly be enriched by this generous program,” James said.

Leianne Neff Heppner, president and CEO of the Summit County Historical Society, said they work to offer several free events throughout the year at its Perkins Mansion including a Family Fun Day on July 7.

“It’s important to allow access in a neighborhood that has some of the highest poverty rates,” she said. “We look forward to letting more people be aware that they are welcome here on the grounds and in the buildings of the Perkins Stone Mansion and John Brown House.”

Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro applauded the initiative.

“Arts and culture should not be a luxury,” she said. “They are an integral part of a child’s education, imagination and growth. I am delighted to live in and serve a community whose partners recognize this and forge pathways that will open up these experiences, making them affordable to so many more families.”

Craig Webb can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.

I should not have been surprised, but I was.

I pulled into the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo the other day to check out its new exhibit only to find its expansive parking lot full.

Mind you, this was not on a weekend but in the middle of the week.

There’s no question we love our zoos.

The Akron Zoo routinely sets attendance records. And the Cleveland Zoo’s full parking lot shows that it, too, is enjoying busy turnstiles.

All this success is for a good reason.

Our local zoos have stepped up their games in recent years.

Gone are the days of gawking at critters and creatures in steel cages.

The Akron and Cleveland zoos now offer immersive educational experiences.

Thanks to a Disney-like approach, you actually feel like you are visiting the exotic animals in their natural environment.

And the new Asian Highlands exhibit at the Cleveland Zoo, tucked in a back corner just a howl away from the wolf habitat, is no exception.

You are first greeted by Asian music and architecture.

Like other newer exhibits, large windows let you get nose to nose with animals such as the red panda.

It is also home to a newcomer to the zoo, the takin (pronounced tock-in) — described as a Dr. Seuss-looking goat-antelope critter — that is free to roam around a fenced area.

The main attraction has arched gates that lead to a colorful outdoor Asian street market.

But instead of vendors hawking wares, the area is home to animal interpreters quick to answer questions about the Amur and snow leopards who have free rein to walk about on elevated platforms over your head, or explore lushly landscaped areas below that are visible through large panes of glass.

There are also educational video boards and interactive things for guests to do like a traditional prayer wheel where guests can offer up their blessings for animal conservation.

Through the use of creative ramps and architecture, the animals have double the space to explore as opposed to the older zoo enclosures.

And there are some animal-friendly components hidden there, too.

What appear to be small cave-like openings are actually air-conditioned spaces for the leopards to relax in.

To celebrate the new digs, the Cleveland Zoo is hosting an Asian Lantern Festival that will run in the evenings for five weeks starting July 19.

The summer festival will feature some 40 colorful lanterns that will light up the zoo and also boast live performances along with chances to visit the zoo’s collection in the evening.

The Cleveland Zoo hasn’t tipped its hat as to what is next up as it continues to revamp its exhibits, but the Akron Zoo has big plans in the works to improve the animal enclosures around its carousel.

The zoos might want to consider bigger parking lots and perhaps a monorail to the far reaches as they attract Disney-like crowds.

The Cleveland Zoo is at 3900 Wildlife Way. Admission is $14.95 for adults, and $10.95 for kids ages 2 to 11. For more, visit clevelandmetroparks.com/zoo.

The Akron Zoo is at 500 Edgewood Ave. Admission is $12 for adults; $10 for senior citizens; $9 for children ages 2-14. Children under 2 are free and parking is $3. For more, visit http://www.akronzoo.org or call 330-375-2550.

Craig Webb can be reached at 330-996-3547 or [email protected]

We’ve taken some pretty bold stances in the past.

Like in 1985 when we editorialized that Hurricane Danny was a good thing because it brought some much-needed rain to Akron. Rain is good for plants.

Or in 2002 when we lamented that the Thanksgiving turkey was being pushed aside for shopping. You can’t eat a bargain sweater.

So it should come as little surprise that we believe Akron native LeBron James should stay put. LeBron is our guy, and who doesn’t love a winning sports team in Cleveland?

Inside Thursday’s edition of the Akron Beacon Journal is a full-page plea in the Sports section declaring there’s “No Place Like Home,” asking James to stay with the Cavaliers. A similar plea appears on our website, Ohio.com.

With the start of the NBA Draft and the LeBron recruitment derby, the plan is to gather reasons from local folks and from faraway Akron fans as to why James should choose to keep his “talents” right here in Northeast Ohio.

Whether it is easy access to his beloved Swensons burgers or legions of adoring No. 23-wearing fans or having a front-row seat to witness the opening of his foundation’s I Promise School in Akron, we want to hear them all. And you might even win some cash.

We already know he loves us. This is the guy who often shrugs and humbly tells reporters as he eclipses NBA milestone after milestone that he’s “just a kid from Akron” who plays “all positions.”

We watched him grow in the glare of the national spotlight from a teen wearing a St. Vincent-St. Mary High School uniform to a man hailed as a king in the NBA.

But through it all, he has still called Akron home.

Often when he films a commercial for the likes of Nike or Beats, he makes the crew come here to use the city or his high school as a backdrop.

His selling of the city has manifested in signature Nike shoes that over the years have paid homage to his hometown and his Fighting Irish high school days.

A megastar in his own right, he’s brought other stars to town to show them around, from Amy Schumer for a star-studded premiere of Trainwreck to fellow NBA superstar Kevin Durant for a ride around Akron to film an episode for his Uninterrupted entertainment channel.

Beacon Journal editor Bruce Winges said he’s watched as other cities, including Philadelphia this go-round and Miami the last time a “decision” was coming, make public pitches here with billboards for James.

Winges said he wanted the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com to make its own public case for James to stay.

“LeBron, we want you to stay home,” he said simply.

As we receive your reasons why LeBron should stay, Winges said the best of the best will be plucked out and used on the various platforms Akron’s news leader has at its disposal, from the printed edition to Ohio.com to the giant digital screen atop the newspaper’s iconic clock tower in downtown Akron.

To participate, visit ohio.com/contests . You might even win a $250 Visa gift card.

“He has done a lot for our community and we want him to stay,” the editor said. “We believe there’s no place like home. And he’s done a hell of a lot for our schools and our community.

“There’s no place like home.”

Craig Webb, who believes LeBron should stay because we have a steady supply of Lawson’s chip dip and sauerkraut balls, can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.

Remember the date.

On Friday, June 8, 2018, the clock ticked down and the Cleveland Cavaliers lost another NBA championship to the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena.

The Cavs were swept by the Warriors and Friday could have been the last time Cavs fans had the opportunity to see that “kid from Akron” in a Cleveland jersey.

But only LeBron James knows the answer to the question surrounding his future. He can opt out of the three-year, $100 million contract he signed on Aug. 12, 2016. Free agency starts on July 1. Although negotiations can begin sooner, James generally takes time to consider his options, which will include his hometown team.

And for now he’s not talking much about what the future holds.

This should come as no surprise.

When James left the Cavaliers the first time, he waited until prime time on July 8, 2010, to announce his “Decision” to a worldwide ESPN audience that he was taking his talents to South Beach.

And when he eventually returned home to win a championship here, we had to wait until a Friday afternoon for the now famous “Letter” penned to Sports Illustrated to arrive on July 11, 2014.

So for now, we have to wait and hope the smell of Swensons burgers, a short work commute up Interstate 77 from his home in Bath Township and the unfinished business of turning around the futures of Akron school kids through his charity are enough to convince him to remain with the wine and gold.

Craig Webb can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3560.

Bored yet?

Summer has just begun and the doldrums have already set in for some of the kids.

Instead of letting your ire rise as fast as the mercury outside — perhaps it is time to head outdoors with the kids and, as we say in our house, let the stink off.

And in the process you can check that bath for the kids off your to-do list.

The Akron area has a fair number of outdoor splash parks. Best of all, many of them are free.

Cuyahoga Falls has just reopened its splash area for kids near Broad Boulevard at Falls River Square.

Mayor Don Walters said the area was revamped as part of the city’s effort to spruce up its downtown and reopen it to traffic.

Walters said the existing splash fountain needed all new inner workings to ensure future generations will continue to enjoy playing in the splashing water that squirts out of the ground.

The only big change, he said, is there is a button kids have to push in the center of the attraction to turn it on.

He acknowledges the kids figure it out pretty quickly — it is the parents who drive by and see it is not running when no one’s around and think it is not working.

There is also a new more traditional fountain on the northern end of downtown but that one is more for looking with a wide-range of colored lights at night. There’s even a sign telling folks to stay out.

He also points out the city has six supervised wading pools that are free for residents too. The pools for those 9 or younger are at Indian Mountain Park, Lions Park, the Quirk Cultural Center, Linden Park, Oak Park and Valley Vista Park.

Other splash parks

One of the newest and largest free splash parks is in Green.

Tucked inside the city’s Central Park, the large splash pad with a fair number of splashing contraptions is supervised and has indoor restrooms and plenty of benches for parents to watch from.

Kids can run from one end to the other and get wet all along the way.

Barberton has two areas for kids to cool off.

The main splashpad in Barberton is so popular on hot summer days that the city’s daycares have to coordinate their visits.

It is not uncommon to see as many as 100 kids running around the one situated in Edgewood Park off Liberty Avenue.

The sprayground has several contraptions that spit out and spray water, including a bright red fire hydrant in its center.

All told, there are 18 different spray features in the attraction.

Barberton has a second more modest fountain that kids can cool off in.

This one is made of stone and features a dolphin and a turtle that spray water.

It is located in Decker Park by the dog park.

Hidden in the center of the University of Akron campus is a small splash pad for students and visitors to cool off.

The water feature is in the Coleman Common that covers four acres between the Student Union and the Student Recreation and Wellness Center.

Medina has two splash pads.

One is at Fred Greenwood Park and is located in the park with access across from A.I. Root Middle School.

It has a nice assortment of water play features including large buckets that fill with water then topple over, splashing kids and unsuspecting parents standing below.

There are also large screens in the grass that parents can lounge under while the kids play. And there are tiered seats around the splash area plus a large picnic pavilion.

The city’s second free splash pad is at Ray Mellert Park with entrances on North Huntington Street and on Foundry Street and Miner Drive.

The spray features there are similar to the ones found at Greenwood Park.

There is also a free spray park at the Edward “Peel” Coleman Community Center on Sherrick Road SE in Canton.

The spray park there is sports themed and has two play areas and plastic playground fixtures shaped like football field uprights, a soccer ball, a baseball bat, a baseball glove and a green circle.

All the spray parks are open seven days a week with a typical start time of 9 or 10 a.m. and shut down before sunset.

Some are also turned off during inclement weather.

The city-run spray attractions use chlorinated water and have filtering systems to ensure the water is safe for kids to play in.

Craig Webb can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.

It’s a great place for a first date.

A place to break up? Not so much.

It is probably not a good idea to bid romantic adieu in a place with axes lying about.

It’s been about a year since Cleveland Axe Throwing opened, and the place tucked in an industrial-looking building off the Towpath Trail in Valley View, has recently been spruced up.

Manager and so-called “axpert” Matt Dixon said you can learn a lot about people wielding sharp axes.

The place hosts league nights but also welcomes corporate outings, couples and folks simply out for fun.

A real misconception about throwing an ax is that you have to be big and strong. Dixon said like throwing a dart, it is really about technique.

He’s had guests as old as 90-plus give it a shot and recently had an 89-year-old woman land a bull’s-eye.

Before you grab an ax and start flinging it at a target, there are a few ground rules.

First of all — and Dixon said a number of guests miss this one before leaving home — no open-toe shoes are permitted or you might go home missing a toe or two. They may wear sandals in Game of Thrones, but you have to wear boring ol’ Keds at Cleveland Axe Throwing.

You have to be at least 15 years old to participate in the 90-minute sessions that cost $32. You also have to sign a digital waiver acknowledging you could lose the end of your nose, a finger or two, an ear or your pride.

Dixon said while you are flinging an ax through the air, it’s more likely that you will have your pride bruised rather than an unfortunate dismemberment. “The worst thing we’ve ever had was an employee got a big nasty splinter once,” he said.

Many guests — myself included — think the harder you throw the 1.5-pound ax, the better the result.

This technique is met with a loud TTtthhwwaacckk as the ax handle hits the target.

Or the top of the ax. TTtthhwwaacckk.

The side of the ax. TTtthhwwaacckk.

And the butt of the handle once again for good measure. TTtthhwwaacckk.

Dixon explains that there’s a tendency among first-timers to release the ax like they would throw a football or baseball, with a flick of the wrist.

“This is a lot like darts,” he said. “It is really about form. It is not about brute force — it is all about the form.” That’s why a lady in her 80s can out-throw a musclehead in his 20s.

“Really anyone can do it,” he said. “It is a very accessible sport.”

TTtthhwwaacckk. Yet another ax thrown by the Webbslayer bounces awkwardly off the target to the floor.

Another rule you learn quickly: “You never want to hand someone an ax — and if you do, you make sure they look you in the eye and say ‘thank you,’ ” Dixon said. “We don’t want any butterfingers.”

And you don’t want your nickname to be Pinkyslayer.

The pastime has been around in Canada as long as ham there has been called bacon, but has made its way to the States in the last couple of years.

There are now ax-throwing ventures throughout the country, including one planned for Akron by the folks behind the Akron Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory.

Leagues like the one in Cleveland earn points to participate in national competitions including the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus — yes that Arnold, think Conan the Barbarian — where some 18,000 athletes from 80 nations competed in 70 sports, including ax throwing.

The biggest challenge, Dixon said, is keeping your wrist “nice and straight” when throwing, and simply releasing the ax toward the target made of spruce.

You get a certain Zen-like feeling when you have mastered the release of the ax and it sticks in the wood.

“Getting frustrated won’t help,” Dixon said.

And you can’t blame the axes, as they are nothing particularly special — Dixon explains they buy them Harbor Freight Tools because they are not that expensive and have a lifetime warranty.

The targets are replaced once a day, more often if they take a particular beating, and they try to sharpen the blades regularly. And to help the axes stick, Dixon said, they will use a spray bottle to help soften the wood a bit.

“You need to be patient with yourself,” he said. “Once you start hitting it — you get it.”

Craig Webb, who was not particularly patient when throwing an ax, can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.

LeBron James has long had a group of dedicated grandmas rooting for him.

But now he has a bunch of kids from Akron, Cleveland, Dover, Fairview and Mayfield Heights also in his corner.

All babies born during the NBA Finals at the Cleveland Clinic’s five birthing units, including Akron General and the newly acquired Union Hospital in Dover, will get a special “Whatever It Takes” onesie to show off some hometown pride.

The Cavs and that team from out West are making a fourth straight run for a title, and this has become a tradition for the Clinic — although James and a certain other NBA Finals all-star by the name of Stephen Curry were born at rival Summa Akron City Hospital.

If you believe in streaks, proud new parents Halle and Paul Ricard believe the Cavs will snatch victory this time from the team’s nemesis Golden State Warriors.

The Copley Township couple have confidence that newborn son Lukas, who sported his Whatever It Takes onesie on Thursday for Game 1 of the series, will be a difference-maker like that other hometown superstar.

Their other son, Jacob, was born in May 2016, when the Cavs were in the middle of a historic playoff run that ended with an improbable Game 7 victory against the Warriors.

“We were bummed that he was born too early to get a onesie,” said Halle, who works in finance for Dominion.

Like the last time, the couple planned to watch the Cavs win a playoff game from the hospital.

“We joke that the Cavs have never lost when we’ve had a baby in the hospital,” said Paul, who is an attorney.

Lukas made his entry into the playoff run at 9:18 a.m. Wednesday at Akron General.

With their infant son at 6 pounds, 1 ounce, and measuring a mere 17 inches, Mom and Dad are not holding out too much hope for him entering the NBA anytime soon.

“He’s going to have to be a point guard,” Paul said. “But he probably won’t be in the starting lineup.”

They just hope he will have the same winning mojo of his older brother.

“Lukas says we are going to win,” Halle said looking down at her son. “Look at him — he knows basketball.

“He’s just a kid from Akron.”

Craig Webb can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.

There are already more beer trails in Ohio than you can shake a pretzel at.

Then there are the wine trails.

And even a doughnut trail.

So when Put-in-Bay’s official ambassador, Peter Huston, was at a national convention last fall attending a session on how to promote regional tourism, he had an appetizing thought.

Sure the Lake Erie island is known for its … let’s just say “spirited hangouts,” but there’s a growing momentum among proprietors to raise their collective culinary game.

And with that thought in mind, Huston spent the winter months persuading and coordinating the owners of 24 dining spots on the island to create the Put-in-Bay Foodie Trail.

The idea, he said, is that they work together to encourage visitors to linger longer on the island and to come back again and again.

Visitors can grab an eight-page guide once they step off the Jet Express ferry, listing each of the 24 spots and offering up their specialties. Each place has a map that visitors can use to make their way along the trail on Sundays through Thursdays and collect stamps. (Things are a bit too hectic on Fridays and Saturdays to offer the stamps on those days.)

Once you hit eight stamps, Huston said, you can take your map to the island’s chamber of commerce office on Delaware Avenue and collect a swag bag full of goodies like shot glasses, cups, beer coasters and other items donated by island businesses.

Sure, most visitors know of the Chicken Patio that has been serving up barbecue for some 50 years. But Huston said there are other hidden culinary gems that can get overlooked, like the Cuban sandwich at Joe’s Bar & Restaurant and the fresh crepes at the Forge.

The question he always gets asked is where a visitor can get a great fish sandwich.

His answer is always the same: “Just about everywhere on the island.”

The goal of this venture, Huston said, is for guests to try something new and different. “We’ve really got a great mix of food here,” he said.

There was a time when the island’s cuisine was pretty much fried anything. And that was the case at the old Tony’s Garage.

Owner Andy Christensen readily admits that when he and a partner took over the place a few years ago, they were serving up fairly unremarkable cheap burgers and frozen fries.

The place has since been rebooted as the Reel Bar and with it came an upgraded menu that includes street tacos.

The move to raise the quality of the food, he said, was consumer-driven as diners demanded better and also began ordering more food, thus creating more business and revenue.

Huston said the island has long been a destination for a younger set to listen to music and partake in the signature drinks and flowing taps of beer.

But there has been a slow shift as these folks get older and want to bring their kids and their grandkids to the island, and are looking for something else to do like visiting a winery or checking out the Foodie Trail.

“Our visitors are looking for more choices,” he said.

Capturing that guest looking for a quieter place to eat and look out over Lake Erie has long been the lure of The Boardwalk. Situated literally on a dock over the lake, the restaurant has been a refuge for seafood lovers since the ’80s.

Boardwalk president Eric Booker said its seafood is brought to the island fresh daily during peak season.

And considering they serve up nearly 100,000 bowls of their signature lobster bisque each season, they have to keep the seafood coming to feed hungry customers.

Huston said as word spreads about the island’s culinary choices, he expects places like The Boardwalk will have even busier kitchens to keep up with the demand.

And he hopes the island will be on foodies’ radar, like big cities including Cleveland and Columbus that are well-known for their food scenes.

“We offer the same different food options,” he said. “This just doesn’t happen everywhere.”

Craig Webb can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.

I’ve been uttering the words “I’m 50 years old” a lot since hitting the milestone birthday in January.

And as I found myself stuck in one place — like a cartoon character with his feet spinning wildly — trying to climb up the entrance to the centerpiece of the Great Lakes Science Center’s TapeScape-Sticky Science exhibit, those were the only words I could muster.

I blame my youngest son, Luke, for my exhausting dilemma.

He’s the little bugger who challenged me to race up the two-level, 1,300-square-foot playground created entirely of packing tape.

He ran up the entrance like a squirrel running after a nut and quickly disappeared around a corner.

I was more like a tortoise trying to climb up an icy hill.

With his snickers fading down the tunnel, I was able to summon some inner strength to shimmy my way up the tunnels created from clear packing tape wrapped around a metal framework.

The cool playground with colorful lights is the work of designer and artist Eric Lennartson who used some 75 miles of tape — enough to stretch from downtown Cleveland all the way to Youngstown — to demonstrate the strength of the thin layers of tape. There’s a pint-size version for the little ones.

The Minnesota artist has built similar creations around the globe.

The new exhibit that explores the science behind sticky tape is free with your museum admission and will stick around — get it? — until Sept. 3.

There are a series of hands-on exhibits and stations that demystify the science behind adhesion and polymers.

Using common props like giant Oreo cookies, suction cups and bristle blocks you discover both the physical and chemical processes that make things sticky or not.

While it is not so sticky, one particular exhibit makes you want to stick around for a while.

A giant red pinscreen lets visitors become like gecko’s feet that bend and conform to surface textures.

The super cool exhibit consists of hundreds of plastic pins that leave behind an imprint of a guest’s fist or, for those who are not germophobes and slightly immature, an impression of their entire face.

Thanks to Northeast Ohio manufacturer ShurTech — the fine folks behind Duck Tape — guests also have access at any given time to some 11 miles of tape in a variety of colors and designs to make their own creations to take home or leave behind.

Some previous works of tape art are on display including a prom dress and a Cavs uniform.

Just a friendly sticky note of advice: If you want to run with your youngins through the climbing exhibit you have to wear socks — I would have been all set if they allowed my bare Webbed feet — so be sure to grab a pair with those nifty rubber grips on the bottom.

General admission to the science center along the Cleveland lakefront is $16.95 for adults and $13.95 for kids ages 2-12. Visit GreatScience.com for more information.

Craig Webb can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.

The Akron Zoo keeps adding new faces.

This time it is a couple of New Yorkers who hail originally from Russia and northern Asia.

The pair now on display are Siberian musk deer who arrived from the Bronx Zoo in New York.

The male, Vlad, and female, Anastasia, are both 3 years old.

Zoo officials say the pair will call Akron home as part of a breeding program through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The deer are native to the forests and mountains of Northeast Asia and their name comes from the musk they secrete during mating season.

They are relatively small and can weigh anywhere from 15 to 35 pounds.

Known for their kangaroo-like faces, the males have tusks.

They are considered a “vulnerable” species because of poachers wanting to harvest their musk glands that can be used in perfume and more commonly for medicinal purposes.

The zoo has also added red-breasted geese to share an enclosure with the deer. The geese are native to Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan and are also considered a “vulnerable” species as their numbers are declining in the wild.

The new additions will call the former sika deer habitat home.

The zoo’s one sika deer, Bucky, has retired to an off-exhibit area.

The zoo dates back to 1953 and is just west of downtown Akron.

It is open seven days a week. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens and $9 for children.

Craig Webb can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.