Wonders of Wildlife has something for everyone

Times photo/Jessi Dreckman A hands-on exhibit in the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium allows young visitors, and those young at heart, to touch rays, horseshoe crabs and other aquatic life.

The Boone and Crockett Club’s National Collection of Heads and Horns, an exhibit dedicated in 1922 to the vanishing big-game animals of the world and helped spark America’s conservation movement, has been relocated to the National Wonders of Wildlife Museum in Springfield.

I had just entered Springfield’s new Wonders of Wildlife museum, stopping to admire the massive short-faced bear perched at the entrance and continuing on to read the plaque of a white-tail deer headdress at one of the first  display boxes, when a teenage girl and two adults made their way up the staircase and entered the nicely lit Native American exhibit I was standing in.  
“Thank God Uncle Jack isn’t with us. It takes forever to go through a museum with him. He stops and reads every single thing,” the teenage girl said, clipping along through the hallway, glancing from one side to the other as she walked. They made their way through the first room of the massive museum, which displays at least 100 Native American artifacts with little snippets of information written out on each of the pieces, in less than 15 seconds, not once glancing at any of the information cards along the way.
“Isn’t that kind of the point?” I heard the man say to the girl with a chuckle as they turned the corner to the next room. I had to laugh a little, thinking I would probably get along with her Uncle Jack as I stepped to the next display box to drink in all the information I could and admire each snippet of information, historical photo and garment made of hand-tanned leather threaded together with a needle carved from bone.
While the other group’s visit to the museum’s first room was a quick, 15-second experience,  I spent 10 minutes taking it all in. Although our museum-visiting style was much different, we all seemed to enjoy the experience in our own ways.
After nearly four hours in the museum and aquarium, I think that’s probably the best way to sum up the experience. It appeals to so many different types of people in so many different ways.

Traveling the world
There are more displays of wildlife than you can imagine. Dioramas with intricate displays of foliage and environment and animals from all over the world allow visitors to feel like they’re traveling not mere steps but thousands of miles – from the peaks of Alaska to the plains of Africa to the old-growth forests of Washington. In an interview with KY3, Aaron and Adam Wolken, brothers who served as the main artists at the museum, said they spent six to seven days a week for more than six years completing the mural paintings in the facility, work that really transforms each area into its own destination.
For the trophy hunter, the Boone and Crocket Club’s National Collection of Heads and Horns could be described as something from a dream. Entry into the massive room is through an impressive archway made completely of antlers. Shoulder mounts of hundreds of record-holding deer and other wild game line the walls. A hunter and wild game enthusiast could spend an hour easily admiring  each mount.

Artistic journey with Louis and Clark
While outdoor devotees are sure to find something to delight them, it may be surprising that art connoisseurs can also find their own little niche within the museum. A gallery of more than 100 Charles Fritz paintings detail the voyage of Lewis and Clark on their famous journey. Fritz researched and traveled the route the pair took on their extensive trip from St. Louis to the Pacific Coast, translating his firsthand experiences into beautifully rendered paintings. As I walked through the rooms, stopping to admire each painting, I almost felt like I was a part of the Louis and Clark journey as well.

Hands-on aquarium
Those young in age and young in heart will also have a blast. A hands-on exhibit in the aquarium allows visitors to touch sting rays, horseshoe crabs and other water-living animals. “Pop ups” give a whole new experience to aquarium viewing, allowing the visitor to climb into cylinder chambers within the tanks, providing 360-degree views of fish and other marine life swimming around you. A jellyfish room provides views of masses of various species of jellyfish rhythmically swirling their way around the tanks. Other live animal displays included in the aquarium section of Wonders of Wildlife include playful otters, live otters, bats, birds, snakes and reptiles, a beaver, live black bears and more.
There is so much more that can be seen at the attraction; I could write for days detailing each element. However, the best way to experience it is not through my words but through your own experience. There’s something for everyone at Wonders of Wildlife. I encourage you to visit and see the new attraction through your own eyes. You won’t be disappointed!

Editor’s note: The Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau announced last week that Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium, which opened in September 2017, was  named America’s Best New Attraction for 2017 in the USA Today Readers’ Choice Contest. The attraction, at 500 W. Sunshine St. in Springfield is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Specific-time entry tickets are required. For more information, visit wondersofwildlife.org or call 888-222-6060.


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