During the summer months, our Nearby Nature articles have provided suggestions of favorite places to visit within 150 miles of Garrettsville (all right, some have been outside of the distance limit, but certainly worth the extra miles). The articles have included unique natural areas throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania that can be visited in a day or a couple of days.
For our last one-tank trip article, we wanted to focus on places to go where you can see wildlife from around the world. Many readers are familiar with Ohio’s excellent zoos. Cleveland, Toledo, Columbus and Cincinnati zoos consistently rank among the best zoos nationally. Akron has made many improvements to their zoological park as well. These are all fabulous locations to see and learn about animals native to Ohio and North America, and also explore animals and habitats from other continents, and they are relatively inexpensive. In fact, purchasing a membership to one of these zoos gets you free or reduced admission to many zoos and aquaria across the country.
A lesser-known zoological center is The Wilds, a private, non-profit safari park and conservation center located on over 9,000 acres. The Wilds (http://www.thewilds.org/) is located at 14000 International Road, Cumberland, Ohio 43732. Before you fill the gas tank and hit the road, be sure to check online or call (740.638.5030) as their days and hours open to the public vary. Currently, they are open 7 days a week June-August from 10:00am-4:00pm (last tour). May, September and October the Wilds is open Saturdays and Sundays.
The Wilds is about a 2 ½ hour drive through beautiful rolling hills of central and southeastern Ohio. It is great to visit anytime, but late September and October when the leaves are turning is a wonderful time of year to travel through SE Ohio. You will quickly realize that The Wilds is not your typical zoo. A long distance from an urban center, The Wilds is more like a safari expedition than a trip to the zoo.
Take I-77 south to I-70 W at Cambridge. Follow I-70 W to New Concord / SR 83 S (Exit 169). Proceed on SR 83 S 12 miles to Cumberland. Turn right onto SR 146 W for 5 miles then left onto Zion Ridge Rd. At this point, you may be convinced you are lost. After all, this is a remote area of the state that is dominated by reclaimed coal mining land. Feel free to be distracted by the hills, forests, meadows and crystal clear lakes, but stay the course and keep following the directions. You’re almost there. After 3.5 miles, turn left onto SR 284. Travel 1 mile and turn left onto International Rd.
The Wilds combines cutting-edge conservation science and education programs with hands-on experiences and unique and exciting adventures. It is home to rare and endangered species from around the globe living in natural, open-range habitats. The land that surrounds and has become The Wilds was heavily impacted by surface coal mining beginning in the 1940’s. In 1971, the Federal Reclamation Act required contouring, topsoil and erosion control to reclaim impacted land. Soon after, the Ohio Zoological Commission partnered with Ohio Department of Natural Resources and hatched the concept of The Wilds. In 1984, the Central Ohio Coal Company donated 9,100 acres to the cause and The Wilds was launched. The area, which is now a designated Audubon Important Bird Area, now is home to 31 rare and endangered species representing over 350 mammals. White Rhinos, Cheetas, American Bison, Fringe-eared Oryx, Giraffes and African Wild Dogs are just a few of the mammals that call The Wilds home.
What makes a trip to The Wilds truly unique is that to view the animals you don’t walk a paved trail to cages and elbow other visitors for a view. Rather, you board a safari bus and drive through two giant security gates inside the park…Jurassic Park style! The Wilds has many safari-style expeditions. The “Safari Transport” is an enclosed bus ride. You may also choose the “Open-Air Safari”. For the more adventurous (albeit more expensive) the “Wild Side Tour” gives you first-hand opportunity to interact with Animal Management specialists as they go about their daily activities. The Wilds also sports a “Zipline Safari”. This professionally guided eco-tour soars over the heads of grazing animals and meets giraffes eye-to-eye. You can even take a safari on horseback. Throughout the entire facility, you rarely see cages. Animals are free to roam in large open areas and interact with the land and other species. Do you enjoy fishing? Take the “Fishing Safari” and angle your way through many lakes dotting the landscape. Additionally, there are hiking and mountain biking trails open to the public at all times.
Safari tours begin at $20 per person and go up to $125. However, membership has its privileges. Individual ($55) and family memberships ($110) come with an interesting newsletter, free Safari Transport tours, discounts on special programs and free admission to over 120 zoos and aquariums nationally. Think about it…the money you save can go towards gas for your next one-tank trip. Also, you can feel good that your admission or membership will help support a founding member of the Conservation Centers for Species Survival. This is a consortium of 5 large American Zoological Associations institutions dedicated to applying combined land and scientific resources to population sustainability. The Wilds is actively involved in breeding and reintroduction programs of federally protected and endangered species in Ohio. They also survey populations of endangered species, such as the Eastern Hellbender, and have helped to reestablish Trumpeter Swans and Osprey.
The Wilds also has an active restoration ecology program. Additionally, their Conservation Science Training offers unique research and training opportunities for students, scientists and conservation professionals. Partners include 9 colleges and universities in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia who study topics such as microbial interactions, forest restoration, aquatic ecology, plant communities and molecular ecology. The Conservation Medicine Residency Program offered at The Wilds is one of only 19 accredited zoological medicine-training programs worldwide.
There is much to do at The Wilds and the surrounding area so extend your stay by spending the night in a private yurt (which includes dinner and breakfast), gather friends and family and stay in the lodge or rent a lakeside cabin.
Did you know …
A visit to The Wilds wouldn’t be complete without a trip to nearby McConnelsville to view “Big Muskie” (http://www.noblecountyohio.com/muskie.html). Once the world’s largest Earth-moving machine, Big Muskie sits on a rise, overlooking the beautiful valley that it once devoured to obtain coal.
Built in 1969, Big Muskie could move 39 million pounds of earth and rock every hour, revealing rich coal seams 100-150 feet down in southeastern Ohio. Big Muskie could swing its boom 600 feet, creeping across the landscape on four giant shoes. The immense dragline machine was churning along at full production until 1991, when power demands and other factors convinced the owners to shut down.
More Nearby Nature…
Visit the Stephens Memorial Observatory at Hiram College on Saturday, July 28 from 9:30 – 11:00pm. The program is free and open to the public. The large telescope will be pointed at the Moon and the Ring Nebula (provided the Moon is not shining too brightly). The Stephens Observatory is located on SR 82 at the intersection with Peckham Avenue, just west of stoplight in Hiram. There is no parking at the Observatory but you can park on many of the nearby side streets and take the short walk. For more information, visit http://www.stephensobservatory.org/. Please note that overcast skies will cancel the program.