By GLENDA CAUDLE
Special Features Editor
Don’t be surprised if, in the midst of a pleasant visit to the Regional History gallery in Discovery Center, you suddenly spy a child’s head pop up in the middle of the waters designed to give visitors an intimate look at the living creatures inhabiting Reelfoot Lake.
While children do not actually live among the ancient cypress roots and the 26 different species of fish, turtles and plants representing the lake formed during the earth-shaking days of 1812, display designers for Discovery Park of America have found a way to put them in the center of the action.
The huge aquarium, which will showcase living creatures that may come as a complete surprise to the average visitor, will include huge plastic “bubbles” blowing out into the watery depths. These clear capsules will allow little ones to literally crawl in a protected space and view the thrilling exhibit from an underwater vantage point.
Kacey Putz, recently hired as the DPA aquarium and wildlife coordinator, says the main purpose of the aquarium will be to educate people about species that may have been a complete mystery to them.
The former Knoxville resident, who now makes her home in West Tennessee, wants people to understand how to take care of the environment so that each of the species showcased at DPA will thrive and remain alive.
She is pleased, she says, that DPA will be using fish from this region for the exhibit, rather than the standard and very familiar tropical fish that usually form the basis for such learning stations.
“I am very excited about the good things that will come from the aquarium at Discovery Park of America,” she says.
Fish will take up most of the space in the huge aquarium, which has viewing windows 48 inches tall and which holds 20,000 gallons of water at a depth of 60 inches.
The familiar bluegill and redear sunfish and simple white and black crappie will be featured and will share their space with turtles such as Southern Painted, False Map and Red-eared examples. Plant life will include water lilies, spatterdock and vallisneria. Other fish to be included include gar, paddlefish, drum, catfish, buffalo and bowfin.
While some of the animal life can be aggressive, the size of the tank and the density of its population are key factors in keeping that aggressiveness under control and minimizing competition for space and resources.
Both the water and the lighting will be specially adapted to encourage the plant life to thrive, as well. Those “leafy” living samples have been specially selected to create a colorful and visually appealing journey into the depths of the lake.
Four smaller focus tanks will direct attention to the shallow water species such as the yellowbelly water snake, the broad-banded water snake and types of salamanders.
“Attitudes” among the wildlife will be kept under control through the careful use of temperature, lighting and grouping. Viewing windows for the smaller tanks will be 8-12 inches tall and there will be rear access to the tanks for maintenance.
Three free-standing terrariums will occupy space next to the walls of the Regional History portion of Discovery Center. These will be much drier and will include types of amphibians and some small fish.
Greens and browns will be the first colors to register with visitors who peer into the terrariums. The colors offer excellent camouflage for creatures such as fishing spiders, giant diving beetles and giant water bugs, which are part of the wonder of Reelfoot.
The terrariums will be the smallest of the viewing portals and will vary in square feet according to what is being displayed within them, according to Mrs. Putz.
While local residents may think they “know” Reelfoot Lake, Mrs. Putz is betting they will want to return to the watery exhibit again and again to get a better look at some surprising creatures, critters and green things they discover there. And the area is sure to be a major attraction for guests from afar who have never before had the opportunity to enjoy the wonders of Reelfoot.
The aquarium, focus tanks and terrariums promise to be prime space for school groups but should also appeal to seniors and those in between who have only known the lake from one perspective before.
Mrs. Putz is eager to welcome visitors from all over the country and beyond once Discovery Park of America opens in the fall of this year.
The education and entertainment venue, under construction now on Union City’s northwest side, represents a dream-come-true for local philanthropists Robert and Jenny Kirkland, whose foundation is the major source of funding for the multi-million dollar 50-acre complex.
Published in The Messenger 6.4.13