ARLINGTON — After acquiring new animals and undergoing installations of real-life sculptures, the River Legacy Living Science Center will push for its biggest renovation to date.Spotted gar, crayfish, gambusia, catfish, Texas cichlids, sunfish and three species of turtles are now housed in recently built 700- and 800-gallon tanks.After completion of the first phase of a $230,000 project to spruce up the place, River Legacy Foundation Executive Director Jill Hill is looking forward to demolishing walls to create an open area and upgrading the facility with interactive exhibits and an aquatic area for children. The $1 million renovation coincides with the nonprofit’s 25th anniversary of providing environmental education to youths and a place where the curious can explore. Last year the center’s programs reached 14,000 youths, and Hill expects the number to grow. Exhibits will be movable to provide space for people who want to rent the place for weddings and parties. Profits from rentals help keep the Living Science Center going. “First and foremost we are an environmental nature center, ” Hill said.Funds will support the center’s new exhibit hall, where areas like a “Watery World” will coincide with curriculum about clean water systems. Children will be able to push aside a rock in the water exhibit to peer at crayfish and mayflies and learn what a clean water system should look like — one where different species flourish. Payne said explorations will then lead visitors to exhibits on the river’s edge, the forest and more. An entire wall will feature interchangeable installations and magnets that rotate with seasons to represent plant and animal cycles. One plant on display will be fake devil’s cigar, a fungus that grows in October, unfurls and hisses, releasing spores that look like smoke, hence its name.River Legacy Parks, as well as Austin and Japan, are the only known places the fungus can be found. Beautiful decayWhen patrons enter the center, the terrestrial and aquatic wall facades showcase the first phase’s success. The old animal habitat was flat and painted, until Gregory George and his team did more than spruce it up. George created the animal habitats and exhibits for the Museum of Living Art at the Fort Worth Zoo. Colored and carved concrete was mixed with sand and steel mesh to create a likeness of the edge of the Trinity River in Arlington. The four-layer display case is based on a gravel layer filled with ammonites — squidlike creatures — and other fossils that would naturally be found. The next layer includes limestone, then sand topped by a leaf litter layer. Native animals and plants are incorporated inside the layer, including a live copperhead, box turtles, skinks, lizards, salamanders, frogs and toads. Hill said the late Derek Main helped with the planning and handing over of items that are now featured in the center, including the ammonites and a mastodon molar placed in a large lifelike rotted tree. Main was the well-liked director of the north Arlington archosaur site, where the University of Texas at Arlington lecturer led many on “dino digs.” Fake Virginia creeper and poison ivy are two plants incorporated in a wall facade to teach children how to know what they’re coming across when they are out in the parks.Kick it off with capitalA second annual A Night With Nature gala on Nov. 15 will officially launch the second phase of the project. The social affair will be geared toward adults to experience the same fun children do, but paired with nighttime excursions, adult beverages and a jazz band. “This allows them to connect with nature on their own level,” marketing coordinator Kristi Payne said.
Monica S. Nagy, 817-390-7792 Twitter:@MonicaNagyFWST