By Amy Kent
Herald Staff Writer
More than 100 people filtered in and out of the Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center on Sunday to celebrate the grand opening hosted by the Clinton County Conservation Board.
Although the center has been open for nearly a year and a half, the Clinton County Conservation Board decided to postpone the grand opening celebration until the majority of the nature center’s displays were completed.
Those displays include an 8,000-gallon aquarium, filled with a variety of freshwater fish, a number of live animal exhibits featuring snakes, turtles and salamanders, and a soon-to-be completed live turtle habitat.
CCCB Chairman Norlan Hinke said during a presentation on Sunday that the tourism center could not have been completed without the strong efforts of the board and the number of staff members who worked to make it a possibility.
“Over a decade ago we started planning for the Eco Center and now the time is here to celebrate it,” Hinke said. “Years of hard work and the help of an extremely knowledgeable staff and great programs made it all possible.”
In addition to the CCCB members and staff, more than 20 area business worked to create the center, including Clinton Engineering, which constructed the building, and local artist Susan Holgersson, who painted the forest scenery that is featured in the center’s main nature exhibit.
It is because of that community support that CCCB Director Walt Wickham felt it was important to hold the grand opening celebration for everyone to be a part of.
“It’s been a great day,” Wickham said. “We had a good turnout and good weather so there’s not really anything more you can ask for.”
There is one thing Wickham would have also liked to see on Sunday; the completed turtle habitat that will be the centerpiece for the Eco Center’s nature center.
“Of course we wanted to see the turtle habitat finished, but I would rather have it done right than done fast,” Wickham said.
Wickham said the project has taken longer than expected because of the amount of detail that will be added to the final product including painting done again by Holgersson. But he estimated that the final product will be finished and available to guests within a month.
Although the CCCB was disappointed with the uncompleted turtle exhibit, the group showed enthusiasm and excitement for the future of the Eco Center and the continued support of it.
Veteran board member James Haring, who received recognition in the form of the center’s conference room being named after him, expressed his gratitude to the community that came out to celebrate the grand opening and to everyone who has been involved with making the Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center a reality.
“I’ve always said we built this for the kids, and they have come,” Haring said. “We’re getting this place really whipped into shape and I’m very happy to be a part of this.”
Wickham added to Haring’s statement by saying that although the Eco Center is meant to educate the kids and all members of the community, it is only the beginning.
“This is the starting point,” Wickham said. “We made this place available to allow people to learn but we want you to go out and explore on your own; really learn about nature and the backwaters of the Mississippi, all on your own.”