That green necklace is a network of 16 different land reservations devoted to every sort of nature recreation, from hiking, biking, and picnic areas to horse trails, fishing holes, parks, and nature education centers. Some of northeast Ohio’s most gorgeous natural settings are Metroparks reservations that embrace creeks, rivers, waterfalls, and the often rolling wooded earthscape. The Cleveland Metroparks manages all reservations as well as the Zoo.
The Zoo occupies 165 acres nestled into one of the folded valleys between West 25th Street and Fulton Avenue, on the city’s near southwest side. Originally opened in 1882 on what is now the grounds of The Cleveland Museum of Art in University Circle’s Wade Park, the Zoo was relocated to its present site in 1907. Within a few years, the Zoo’s complement of local fauna was expanded to include monkeys, bears and seals, all in suitable settings. By 1940, the Zoo’s first elephant arrived, and, for a time, control of the facility fell to The Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
By 1975, Cleveland Metroparks had assumed management of the Zoo, and expansion of the park continued, as primates, cats, wolves, The Rainforest, an Australian adventure, and a zoological medicine facility were added. Today, the park is roughly subdivided into six ‘biomes’, or bio-climatically themed habitat areas: Northern Trek; African Adventure; Australian Adventure; Primates, Cats & Aquatics; The Rainforest; and Waterfowl Lake. With the addition of such relatively recent special programs as Halloween’s ‘Boo at the Zoo’, the shark and ray touch-pool, day and overnight camps, and animatronic dinosaurs, the Zoo continues to be the most popular year-round attraction for Clevelanders young and old.
The architecture of The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is as varied as its themed biomes. Traditional wood-framed structures — like the exquisite Wade Hall — coexist with the gleaming barreled metal-and-glass form of The Rainforest. The simple park-like structures of the welcoming entrance facility and gift shop give way to the Modernist masonry forms and bas-relief imagery of the elephant enclosure. The savannah style enclosures for African animals neighbor the elegant butterfly greenhouse.
With such features as the largest collections of both bear species and primate species in all of North America, The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo (the seventh-oldest in the nation) is a premier zoological park and education/entertainment experience.