steadies a mounted grizzly bear while Illinois taxidermist and museum
artist Gary Brees secures the display. Brees' studio created the
dioramas at Wonders of Wildlife, a new museum of hunting and fishing
located next door to Bass Pro Shops in Springfield.
For nearly 4 million people
each year the most inviting corner in Springfield is the intersection
of Sunshine and Campbell streets, site of the sprawling Bass Pro Shops
complex. Beginning Nov. 2, that address belongs to Wonders of Wildlife,
a new museum built on the edge of the store's massive parking lot.
Touted as the American National
Fish and Wildlife Museum, Wonders of Wildlife combines traditional museum
displays with live animal exhibits and gigantic aquariums in
facility that towers over the busy street corner.
The museum will naturally
appeal to Bass Pro's clientele but proximity to Missouri's top tourist
attraction comes at a price.
"The number one misconception
people have is that we're owned by Bass Pro. Second to that is that
we're just going to wheel all the taxidermy across the parking lot and
put it in the new building," says Vicki Hicks, Wonders of Wildlife's
public relations coordinator.
Although Bass Pro founder
Johnny Morris was the visionary behind Wonders of Wildlife and donated
the property for it, neither perception is true.
The museum is owned by a
not-for-profit foundation and is funded by Springfield's hotel and motel
sales tax, municipal bonds, grants, private donations and admissions
fees. And while Bass Pro Shops' own wildlife museum may close when Wonders
of Wildlife opens, the store's displays are not moving across the lot.
Instead, visitors to the
new museum will see a national-class facility that is part zoo, part
aquarium and part learning center all devoted to championing
the role of hunting and fishing in the conservation of wildlife and
"Wonders of Wildlife is just
an amazing thing. People will see a whole gamut of animals, everything
from native species all the way to Caribbean salt water fish in the
'Out to Sea' tank," says Misty Mitchell who left Springfield's Dickerson
Park Zoo to become the museum's curator of mammals and birds. "There's
nothing like this around anywhere."
When it opens, Wonders of
Wildlife will employ more than 100 people and require the help of some
400 volunteers who will serve as tour guides, greeters, ticket sellers
and office help. The museum can accommodate up to 1,500 people and self-guided
tours are expected to take about an hour and a half.
Daryle Hayter and Kelly Hall attach a display below a mounted eagle.
The display allows visitors to compare their hand strength to the
grip of an eagle's talon.
Visitors entering the two-story
lobby can learn about conservation at a series of interactive electronic
displays. An $11 admission allows them to proceed to a tree-top free-flight
aviary, home to live birds and more hands-on exhibits. From there, guests
will pass frolicking river otters and wary bobcats. Beaver and ducks
swim on the surface of a 140,000-gallon fresh-water aquarium intended
to recreate habitat found at Table Rock Lake.
"We have about 40 different
mammals and bird species and about 120 different species of fish and
reptiles on display," says Hicks, who says she tries to emphasize the
"Alive!" message. "We're
80 percent live animals and only 20 percent museum exhibits."
The museum's traditional
wildlife taxidermy and educational displays carry much of the message
of Wonders of Wildlife, however.
A "Hooves, Horn, Hide and
Hair" gallery introduces visitors to wildlife itself while "Why I Hunt"
presents the case for hunting as part of America's conservation effort.
The "Top of the Food Chain" predator gallery includes dioramas depicting
North America's largest game while the "Heroes of Conservation" library
includes interactive displays recalling the lives of famous outdoorsmen
As visitors ride an escalator
downstairs they pass bubble-shaped windows where bass, gar and other
freshwater fish peek out, providing the first glimpse of what's to come.
Below, a 19-foot-tall, 10-inch-thick wall of curved acrylic provides
an underwater view of the freshwater aquarium. Smaller aquariums house
other aquatic species while museum-goers will learn about fish biology
walking through the inside of a 30-foot-long bass replica.
Other displays include an
antique tackle shop, an interactive, electronic deep-sea fishing experience
and a unique "Read a River" display aimed at children. "You can float
a little sponge fish down the current and see where fish eat and where
they hide and the habitat of fish," says Hicks.
More than 100 bats live
in the museum's walk through cave don't worry, they're behind
glass and a future exhibit containing alligators and poisonous
snakes is planned. The
exhibit that has earned the most attention, though, is "Out to Sea,"
a huge salt water aquarium which houses several species of sharks as
well as rays, eels and other ocean fish.
of Wildlife Public Relations and Development Coordinator Vickie
Hicks watches a diver swim among the fish in the museum's "Out to
Sea" saltwater aquarium. The 220,000 gallon tank will house sharks,
rays and other fish.
"It's 225,000 gallons. That's
two swimming pools full. It's 21 feet deep," Hicks says. "It's breathtaking
as you walk into the room."
Together, these and other
displays make up a museum unlike anything else in the Midwest.
"We are the American National
Fish and Wildlife Museum," says Fred Marty, a former U.S. Army two-star
general who heads Wonders of Wildlife. "I don't think people know yet
what's going on inside this building. It is just absolutely super and
this community and all of southwest Missouri is going to be the the
One only needs to look at
those involved in Wonders of Wildlife to recognize its national stature.
Every major conservation group in America from Audubon Inter-national
and The Nature Conservancy to Ducks Unlimited and Buckmasters, some
27 groups in total are participating. Former U.S. Presidents
Bush and Carter are honorary board chairmen.
Clearly, the participation
of a virtual who's-who in American conservation is due to one man, Bass
Pro Shop's Johnny Morris. "He
is the driving force for getting it started," says Larry Whiteley, a
spokesman for Bass Pro Shops. "He knew all these people and he knew
how to get them together."
It was Morris' idea to launch
the museum and his contributions, worth as much as $10 million including
land, made it possible.
"This is a lifelong dream
he's had," Whiteley says. "Johnny has had a heart for conservation and
education many, many years. He wants to see more people appreciate and
love the outdoors and take care of it."
new Wonders of Wildlife museum houses live mammals, fish and birds
as well as traditional museum displays. The 92,000-square-foot facility
is located next to Bass Pro Shops in Springfield.
Morris' contributions are
not finished. Plans are underway for an aerial walkway between Bass
Pro Shops and Wonders of Wildlife. The enclosed bridge will include
another free-flight aviary and connect to an additional 30,000 square
feet of display space inside the store building.
This flow of support is strictly
one-way however. The museum's public bond financing does not allow Wonders
of Wildlife to assist its neighbor in any way. "We have to be very careful
of that relationship so that we don't exist to promote them or that
will jeopardize the bonds," Hicks says of the business know simply as
"the store" to museum employees.
Not that Bass Pro needs any
help from the museum. With twice the annual visitors of the Gateway
Arch, the huge outdoors store is by far the state's number one tourist
destination. But that doesn't mean the museum wouldn't like to see the
"Obviously it's going to
be more the other way around in the beginning," Hicks says. "But our
goal is to make ourselves a national attraction."
Wonders of Wildlife opens
Nov. 2. For more information call (417) 890-9453 or visit at www.wondersofwildlife.org.