- 1 of 10 Photos | View More Photos
Have you ever touched the nose of a zebra, scratched the large neck of a water buffalo or looked into the eyes of an emu? Tucked in the countryside of Berlin, there is a unique animal park that offers the opportunity to feed and touch exotic animals.
Rolling Ridge Ranch Animal Park was first opened up to the public in 1996 and featured only 200 animals and birds. A three-seater carriage and two wagons took visitors around the park to feed the animals. The park saw approximately 7,500-10,000 visitors the first year it was open to the public.
Orin Mast, current owner, said they will expect an upwards of 50,000 visitors this summer, from all over the world. "We've seen visitors from half of the states already," said Mast. As the school season lets out and summer vacations begin, Mast expects many excited kids and families will be finding their way to the Ranch.
You can drive the tour yourself, however, you can only feed the animals if you take advantage of the horse-drawn wagon ride. I had the pleasure of taking a wagon-ride tour of the animal park myself.
Upon arriving at the park, you receive a program that tells you a little about all the animals the park has to offer. Friendly tour guides direct you over to a large covered wagon, driven by a two, Belgian Draft Horse team. Make new friends with the other excited tour-goers ready to meet some exotic animals.
Once the wagon is loaded, everyone is offered their first round of animal pellets free to feed the animals and the wagon is off. Our tour guide showed us how to hold our buckets with a firm grip to keep them from the "bucket stealers," but to not let our fingers become snacks for the birds as they pecked at the grain.
Large gates were swung open and dozens of wild eyes stood awaiting the wagon to enter the enclosure. The tour guide directed the horse drawn team just past the gates a few feet and brought the wagon to a stop. Various deer, elks and llamas were among the first to make their way up to the wagon and stick their heads in for a little treat.
Not shy at all, some even stood on the wagon to get a better reach of an unsuspecting child's bucket or stuck their heads under benches, brushing past legs to get to pellets that had fallen on the wagon floor.
A pair of Grant Zebra's make their way to the wagon next and allowed you to stroke their nose as they dove into your bucket of food. Their stripes are not your typical black and white color, but more of a brown and white coloring and they are the most prevalent subspecies of zebras.
Just before we continued on our journey, a large camel wondered up to the wagon and stuck it's head in to say 'hello.' Once the camel had made its way from person-to-person, our tour guide directed the horses onward. A slight jerk of the wagon warned the animals to give space to the wagon as it pulled on.
Looking behind the wagon, a large group of animals were left staring after us while a handful of deer, llamas, birds and even a zebra kept pace with the wagon hoping to snag another treat. The wagon came to another halt down in the valley of the woods where more deer and llamas came to greet us.
As we neared the pond, a small group of ducks came running for the wagon and emus bobbed in our direction. Our tour guide instructed us to keep our fingers out of the way as the emus submerged their large, strong beaks into our buckets. One rider was very surprised to turn around and come face-to-face with a patiently waiting emu.
Our tour guide warned us of the "bucket stealers" approaching. They were large antelopes who grabbed on to the edge of the buckets and managed to rip a couple free from the grips of some of the tour-goers. Occasionally, a bucket from previous tours could be seen poking out from under a log or some brush.
Making our way past a large pond and out of the woods, gently rolling, open land was clearly the hangout for the cattle species and the buffalo. A curious water buffalo made its way to the side of the wagon and allowed for a few seconds of a neck rub before moving on to someone who could provide him with some pellets.
Coming to the end of the tour, we were greeted by Watusi Cattle, Texas Longhorns, Brahma and Highland Cattle and a pair of Yaks. A mammoth donkey, miniature donkey and Zedonk (a cross between a zebra and a donkey) stuck together and visited momentarily before returning to their lush grass.
As we concluded our trip, we noticed one llama who managed to follow us the whole one and three-quarter mile trip and see us off as we passed through the exit gates. Once again, a hodgepodge of exotic animals was left standing in our tracks as we moved on.
Just because the tour has come to an end, doesn't mean your day of exploring has to. Check out the petting zoo and walk-through area which features baby sheep and goats, baby pot bellied pigs, a baby camel, a beautiful peacock, a variety of birds and lemurs and kangaroos. Don't be startled when a feathered friend shouts 'hello' from the parrot cage.
Bring a picnic lunch or grab a burger from the burger bar and don't forget to pick up a little souvenir from the gift shop. Mast explained that tour groups come in from the Cleveland Clinic and guests take advantage of the picnic area for lunch before going on their own exotic tours.
Rolling Ridge Ranch is located at 3961 CR 168, Millersburg, just three and a half miles from Berlin. Hours and rates may vary so be sure to visit their website at www.visitrollingridge.com. See their ad on the back cover of this magazine for a special coupon.