Estuarium reopens for weekends until end of year

jeff.mayor@thenewstribune.comSeptember 8, 2013 

After a successful summer debut, the South Sound Estuarium will reopen on weekends, starting Saturday, for the fall and winter.

“We had a very successful summer pilot program, bringing in well over a 1,200 visitors with overwhelmingly positive feedback,” said Diana Larsen-Mills, acting executive director of the South Sound Estuary Association.

“The success of the summer pilot program allowed us to continue the pilot through the end of the year,” she added.

“The highlights for the staff and volunteers was overwhelmingly our personal interactions with visitors,” Larsen-Mills said. “The center offers a space to engage a wide variety of people: young and old, learners and teachers, about the wonders of south Puget Sound.”

She said staffers were surprised at the age range of visitors and where they live.

“We had lots of out-of-state and out-of-county visitors, many of whom do not live near saltwater and had no idea of the incredible diversity of creatures who live in our waters,” she said.

Having only been open since July 11, the marine education center is very much a work in progress.

With lots of young children visiting, centers staffers created coloring sheets that are drawings of the creatures that live in each of the touch tanks.

For the reopening, the staff plans to add a display on marine birds and marine sanctuaries. There also will be four new videos shown, including one from Surfrider Foundation and a documentary about plastics in the ocean called “The Majestic Plastic Bag” by Heal the Bay. Larsen-Mills also said there will be more hands-on activities for all ages.

“We seek to enhance the experience at the estuarium with exciting new displays, interior designs, hands-on activities and various ways for families to actively engage with the estuarium such as investigation worksheets,” she said.

Staffers and volunteers are also still wading through suggestions made by visitors to see what other changes can be made.

“Public evaluation surveys included suggestions ranging from detail-oriented to grandiose, such as ‘have a dolphin.’ Many visitors wanted a bigger and permanent facility with more tanks. Their suggestions will help in our future planning,” Larsen-Mills said.

With the center reopening through the end of the year, Larsen-Mills wonders what changes in demographics will be seen.

While the Estuarium will be open to the public on weekends, staffers are working with partners – schools, senior groups, Boy and Girl Scouts, child care programs – to offer group visits during the week. The addition of by-appointment group visits is another pilot component the association will test this fall, she said.

While developing new exhibits for the remainder of the year, Larsen-Mills said the association is looking for a new location for next year. The current location might not be available in 2014.

South Sound Estuarium

Where: 608 Washington St. NE, Olympia, one block south of the Olympia farmer's market.

Hours: 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays through December.

Admission: $2 for people agex 12 and older, $1 ages 6-11 and free for children 5 and younger.

Make appointments: Groups can schedule visits during the week. To schedule a group visit contact Leihla at 360-888-0565.

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640 jeff.mayor@thenewstribune.com thenewstribune.com/outdoors

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