Finding love in the wild

Carissa Bowlin

MMMM, DINNER! Two snow leopards at the Akron Zoo watch intensely as the crowd passes.

Credit: Ben Breier

Waterfalls, botanical gardens and wildlife. The perfect setting for the helpless romantic, and it’s only miles away. The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and Akron Zoo aren’t just for the kids. They’re also a prime candidate for a date.

Even with the lake effects right around the corner, both Akron and Cleveland zoos have much more to offer than just a few monkeys. Sarah Bartash, Cleveland Metropark’s marketing director, can see the zoo as the perfect place for a date.

She even sees ratings from publications like the Scene and Free Times placing the zoo in the top of public-area things to do.

“I think the zoo is a great place to get to know each other,” Bartash said. “You can gage each other’s reactions, and it’s in a botanical setting.”

Botanical settings like the rainforest might just be the perfect setting for a first adventure in these chilling months.

“Right now we are focusing on the ‘some like it hot, some like it cold’ promotion of the rainforest and the Northern Trek,” said Bartash. “All winter long it’s still 80 degrees in the rainforest.”

A 25-foot waterfall, more than 10,000 plants and more than 600 animals from the jungles all over the world are romantic to walk through.

The rainforest is a two-acre, two-level exhibit and sets the standard as the largest of its kind in the country.

And for those who like it cold, visit the Northern Trek. It is home to cold climate animals including Siberian tigers, Thorolds deer, Bactrian camels, the harbor seal, the sea lion exhibit and one of the largest collections of bear species in North America.

This also includes the Wolf Lodge, which gives visitors a peek into the environment and wildlife of a northern temperate forest.

“It’s the best time to see the Wolf Lodge,” said Bartash, “because the leaves have fallen and you can really see the wolves in their environment.”

The Wolf Lodge also is home to beavers and a variety of wetland species.

Closer to Kent, the Akron Zoo is doubling in size with the college demographic in mind.

“We are expanding from 25 to 50 acres and 400 to 700 animals,” said David Barnhardt, Akron Zoo marketing director. “We are gearing this towards the college-age that don’t mind walking around for a couple hours. With this expansion there is definitely a lot more for adults to see.”

One of the newest exhibits at Akron is “Legends of the Wild,” which includes 16 new exhibits, 20 different species and more than 380 animals. The entrance to the exhibit is a 30-foot waterfall and is centered on the many legends that surround the animals.

For a bite to eat, take a date to Akron’s Komodo Kingdom. Aside from dining, the exhibit includes three animal exhibits about endangered species: Komodo dragons, Galapagos tortoises and Chinese alligators. These are only separated from the guests by a pane of glass.

Along with exhibits and attractions, the Cleveland Zoo always has events special days.

“We try to have things going on all the time,” Bartash said. “Whether it be Boo at the Zoo, December Days or Teddy Bear Day.”

The zoo is planning a day this winter for the baby snow leopard that was born this year. The zoo is teaming up with the Snow Leopard Trust for this day to help protect snow leopards’ natural habits.

“We try to tie all our events back to protecting the areas our animals come from,” Bartash said.

Some of the events like Boo at the Zoo, going on this weekend at both zoos, are geared towards kids but are arguably just as enjoyable for a date.

“Boo at the Zoo is an alternative Halloween activity for adults who don’t want someone to jump out and scare them,” Bartash said. “I see them getting a kick out of costumes, meeting the gate keepers and still seeing all the animals and exhibits.”

The Cleveland Zoo is sensitive to the college date budget as it teams up with Eco-Cell in November.

“We worked up a partnership with Eco-Cell so that guests can bring in old cell phones and in return get two for one admission,” Bartash said.

Eco-Cell recycles the phones or uses the phone parts to build “new” phones.

After a successful zoo date, it might be time to start planning holiday gifts. The Akron Zoo has a solution for animal lovers. Gift sponsorships can be purchased in honor of a sweetheart. Or get your flame right in there with the animals as care taker for a day.

Contact ALL reporter Carissa Bowlin at [email protected].