After closing for renovation six years ago, anticipation has been building for the Wonders of Wildlife complex on the Bass Pro Shops campus in Springfield. On Wednesday, members of the media were offered a sneak peek into the facility, which is scheduled to open next spring.
“What we’re looking at is a cylinder, acrylic cylinder, about 30 feet tall, about 20 feet in diameter. This room itself is basically themed on the notion of artificial reefs.”
Michael Oleksak is with Cosestudi, a company that specializes in aquarium design. He’s been working to mold this 315,000 square-foot facility into a world renowned educational experience and conservation area. It will be called America’s Wildlife Museum and Aquarium.
Inside this gallery, the second that visitors will see on their journey, Oleksak describes an 86,000 gallon tank featuring Red Emperors, Coral Trout, and Long-Nose Unicornfish, among others. The fish live amongst a shipwreck that showcases how creatures adapt to the environment.
When complete, visitors will be able to tour of a mile-long network of aquariums that holds 1.3 million gallons of water and 35,000 fish. It’ll be an immersive experience, as Oleksak describes.
“You’re not just looking at exhibits; visitors are going to be in the exhibits. There’s a whole component of this where you’re walking through swamps, you’re walking through the Ozarks, you’re walking through the Amazon. The whole idea is to make an emotional connection between the visitors and the aquatic life, to start using it as a catalyst for environmental education,” Oleksak says.
You’ll also find displays of mammals, reptiles and birds, and a series of exhibits and collections that honor fishermen and historically significant American big game mammals.
On Wednesday, the International Game Fish Association announced it will move its interactive Fishing Hall of Fame and associated exhibits in Florida to the new Springfield museum. IGFA president Rob Kramer says the move is a testament to the conservation efforts locally, which is a core principal to the organization’s mission.
“Since 1998 we’ve had 105 outstanding men and women enshrined in this hall of fame for their extraordinary achievements in recreational fishing, conservation, science and literature,” Kramer said.
The museum will also play host to Boone and Crockett Club’s world-famous National Collection of Heads and Horns. Tony Schoonen is the club’s chief of staff, and says the collection started in the early 1900s, during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and at a time when people feared wildlife was disappearing.
“Therefore there was a need to preserve a collection that represented what these animals actually looked like for the benefit of generations to follow,” he said.
Additionally, America’s Wildlife Museum and Aquarium will feature Fishing Heritage Hall, described as an “open ocean” habitat and collection of boats that fishing legends were made on. Hunting Heritage Hall offers life-like animal diorama displays surrounded by recreated natural settings.
These exhibits join the National Archery Hall of Fame, the NRA Sporting Arms Museum, and the John A. and Genny Morris Conservation Education Center. At 50,000 square feet, the already established complex features the Wonders of the Ozarks Learning Facility School, National Outdoor Recreation and Conservation School and banquet spaces.
The array of exhibits and educational facilities is something Johnny Morris himself did not envision when he founded Bass Pro Shops in 1971.
“I think our main goal has always been to have the opportunity to pass along the heritage of hunting and fishing in America, and the role that sportsmen and sportswomen have played in conservation,” said Morris.
An estimated cost for the facility was not disclosed, although its website says the museum has received roughly $20 million in private donations and another $2.5 million in pledges over the past five years.
Officials plan to provide additional sneak peeks as the America’s Wildlife Museum and Aquarium continues to develop ahead of next year’s grand opening.