It’s not very often that you get to touch a dinosaur.
The pallid sturgeon touch tank lets kids feel the unique fish, which outdoor education specialist Amber Schiltz said is like a living dinosaur. That fish family has been around for 70 million years.
School kids who visited this week loved to touch the bony plates of sturgeon when a curious one swam up to their hands.
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“They were squealing and getting excited,” Schiltz said. “It was really fun.”
The center is holding its grand opening from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday after an almost two-year renovation that cost several million dollars, much of it funded by donors.
The building, previously called Aksarben Aquarium, was gutted and expanded by about one-third. Although there are fewer aquariums now, the new ones are bigger.
The largest used to be 1,500 gallons and is now 9,500 gallons. There’s a cold-water stream tank, a river tank and a reservoir tank, all of which contain species found in those waters.
Big Snap Daddy, the 80-year-old snapping turtle who weighs almost 90 pounds, has gotten a new and more expansive home, too.
He’s one of the most popular attractions, aquarium director Tony Korth said.
He said kids have also been enjoying the interactive bike rides, which allow you to ride the trails at Platte River State Park on a TV screen. Same with the nature play area and the trees with live animal displays.
There’s now a classroom, and two full-time educators and three part-time naturalists have been added to the staff.
“Before, we were less organized,” Korth said. “Now it’s more hands-on, with more education programs, and the interactive displays really seem to capture the attention for the young people.”
Korth has been working at the park for 29 years. He said that as much as he liked the old building, this is even better.
The improvements are part of the Venture Parks project, which has expanded activities at Mahoney State Park, Platte River State Park and Louisville State Recreation Area. Schramm is the fourth park in that initiative.
“It’s all to attract more families to get outside and do things,” Korth said.
Because of the upgrades, a visit is no longer free. There is now an entry fee of $10 for adults and $7 for children.
That will be waived Saturday, which just happens to be the statewide free fishing and park entry day.
The school kids who visited this week were there to release into the canyon pond the trout they’ve grown from eggs.
Most didn’t want to leave the education center. When Schiltz asked them what they liked best, it was hard to narrow it to one thing.
“The most common answer I hear is everything,” she said, “and that just makes me really excited.”
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