Road Trip! Destination: The Wilds of Cumberland, Ohio
Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, has found adventure throughout the world.
He says, however, that it is not necessary to travel far from home to experience it.
With 31 rare and endangered species, representing 340 mammals from around the world, more than 100 lakes and ponds and vistas of rolling hills, The Wilds would be an exceptional experience anywhere on the globe.
To find it spanning 14 square miles in Ohio, just two hours southwest of Pittsburgh near Cumberland, is proving to be a happy surprise for many.
“It's the closest you can get to Africa or Asia without needing your passport,” Hanna says in a press release.
The Wilds, which opened to the public in 1994, is a private nonprofit conservation center and safari park managed by the Columbus Zoo, located 74 miles southeast of the zoo.
“Wildzfest,” the annual season kick-off family day of fun, including tours, games and other entertainment, is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 18. (Details: www.columbuszoo.org)
A once barren, strip-mined wasteland, restored to the original beauty of the Appalachian hills, it is now home to large herds living in free-roaming pastures. The Wilds, which differs fundamentally from traditional zoological institutions, provides critical habitat for wildlife and opportunities for advanced research programs, serving as a living laboratory for study of restoration ecology and conservation medicine.
Visitors see rare white rhinos, in addition to giraffes, zebras and antelope, herds of exotic deer, camels and rare Przewalski's wild horses. The location is home to North America's largest herd of the unique Sichuan takin goat-antelope from China.
The Wilds is accessible to people of every age, interest and physical capability — from half-day getaways to multiday adventures. It is open seven days a week during June, July and August; Saturdays and Sundays in May, September and October, plus Memorial Day and Labor Day. (Details: 740-638-5030; www.thewilds.org)
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or email@example.com
Just staying overnight can be an out-of-the-ordinary experience.
Nomad Ridge provides an exclusive, adults-only stay at The Wilds. Guests have a comfortable, well-appointed private yurt. or Mongolian-style tent, with accent features like bamboo flooring and Asian-inspired decor. They can sit back on their own personal deck tucked amid trees next to the animal pasture areas; take in beautiful, sweeping views of The Wilds from an observation deck; track animals large and small from an observation deck; relax around a fire ring, miles from traffic and urban lights; and enjoy dinner and breakfast in settings with stunning views. The yurts at Nomad Ridge are built on platforms, have screened windows, ceiling fans, solid wood doors and private bathrooms.
The Lodge at the Wilds offers private luxury cabins nestled against one of the most scenic lakes on the property.
Safaris and adventure tours
In addition to open-air safari tours, the site offers animal encounters called Wildside Tours that allow small groups to interact with animal-management specialists and help out with activities such as feeding the giraffes, watching staff conduct medical procedures and visiting staff as they reseed the prairies.
The sweeping views of the landscape and the setting sun star in a two-hour sunset safari every Friday and Saturday, June through September. The tour includes a buffet-style dinner on the Overlook Cafe before boarding a safari vehicle for a guided tour though the open range when the animals are most active at feeding time. Cost is $75.
The horseback safari hour-long tours for novices and experienced riders provide an option for those who love wildlife and who are seeking a new adventure. Breathtaking landscapes with spectacular views of safari areas and habitats are promised.
A stroll through the Butterfly Habitat is suggested before or after the ride. The property, a designated Audubon “Important Bird Area,” includes a birding station with covered lookout. Rates for horse rides are $30.
The Wild Zipline Safari is a professionally guided eco tour, described as an unprecedented, untamed, “flight-seeing” expedition. The adventurous soar over herds of animals gazing on plains, fly over rare animals basking in the sun and see “eye to eye” with resident giraffes. This safari offers 10 ziplines built on a series of observation platforms. The zipline costs $84.
The variety of underwater habitats and structures, as well as species, creates what can be exciting fishing opportunities in the tranquil lakes, surrounded by rolling hills of grasslands and forest. Several water bodies have been stocked with largemouth bass, red-eared sunfish, brown bullhead, muskellunge, bluegill and channel catfish.
Green sunfish, long-eared sunfish, pumpkinseed, white crappie, warmouth and bullhead are among other species discovered.
A guided excursion is four hours long with an attendant who provides transportation, answers questions and assists with equipment.
Visitors can fish from the banks or use a boat supplied by The Wilds. All fishing is catch and release and an Ohio fishing license is required. Rates are $75 to $100.
There are camps aplenty at The Wild for all ages and many themes.
• “WildeCamp” for ages 8 to 19, a week of canoeing, swimming, hiking, crafts, games and exotic animals.
• Adult and Family Camps: programming for just adults, as well as opportunities for the entire family to enjoy together.
• Photo Safari Camp: Grab your camera and head out on safari in search of Asian rhinos, African antelope, soaring raptors and not-to-be-forgotten scenery. Expert photographers will share techniques.
• “Dirty Wild Jobs” conservation camp, in which teens, ages 15 to 19, can learn about careers as a wildlife veterinarian, animal management specialist, wildlife habitat manager and other pursuits. This hands-on practicum includes lab and field classes with vets, restoration ecologists, conservation educators and animal management professionals.
• Adventure Camp: Two days of backpacking the unseen areas of The Wilds for ages 13 to 16. Campers can enjoy parts of the property that others have never seen. Participants will hike, rappel, go horseback riding and zipline.
• Eco Ambassadors: Kids, ages 12 to 15, work side-by-side with animal scientists to learn about different methods of observing, tracking, collecting and monitoring wildlife — from native to rare and endangered species that roam the Wilds.
• Conservation crew camp: For kids ages 10 to 11 who like learning by doing and getting their hands into nature.