Children’s Nature Center opens its doors in Fruita

From the safety of her mother’s arms, Kinley Smolha, 2, of Fruita watches a Brazilian rainbow boa constrictor take a drink of water Saturday during the grand opening of the Children’s Nature Center, 404 Jurassic Ave., in Fruita.  Kinley’s mother is Sereneti, and they are accompanid by Kinley’s sisster, 5-year-old Karissa.

Ethan Adams, 4, of Grand Junction discovers how the world looks through an insect’s eyes during a Saturday visit with his grandparents to the new Children’s Nature Center in Fruita. Ethan said that his favorite animal at the center was the emperor scorpion.



■ Winter: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

■ Summer (starting May 1): 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

■ Admission: $5 for children 12 and younger, $7 for teens and adults, $21 for immediate family of four.

Three years of work and many more years of dreaming culminated Saturday in the opening of the Children’s Nature Center at 404 Jurassic Ave. in Fruita.

The former MyWireless store at the location has been transformed to house snakes, scorpions, turtles, sting rays and a bright crimson Eclectus Parrot named Ruby, among other creatures.

Exhibits range from a faux tree plastered with diagrams that detail the life cycles of various species to a station where children can look through masks to see how an insect, shark or chameleon views the world.

Many of the center’s tanks and terrariums are filled, but some displays, including those for collared lizards and a Fly River Turtle, are empty until the weather warms enough to safely ship them to their new western Colorado home.

Janet Gardner, executive director of the center and its parent organization, Grand Valley Zoological Quest, said she tried to pick animals for the center that are unique and could provide an educational opportunity for students that corresponds with state standards for life science curriculum.

Gardner said she hopes animal education at the center will inspire students to learn more about nature and get them interested in life science.

Her passion for getting the center open stemmed from a childhood spent outdoors every weekend.

“The goal is to create that spark that I had when I was 10,” she said.

Seeing educational presentations about animals at school was the primary inspiration for Kelsey Wyckoff, one of the center’s 53 volunteers, to earn degrees in exotic animal training and management and animal behavior and animal conservation.

Wyckoff’s training led her to train and handle animals for movies in California before recently moving here.

“I always wanted to do education” involving animals, Wyckoff said. “This is how I started. People would bring animals to school, and I would be transfixed.”

Jamison Elington, one of four Colorado Mesa University students interning at the center through May, said he enjoyed lessons that involved animals as well while growing up and he wants to bring that same joy to local students.

The junior biology major said he loves to see kids interact with animals and become interested in conservation.

“I want to enforce the idea that (animals) are important to our world,” he said.

Ethan Adams, 4, said his favorite part of the nature center opening Saturday was seeing two scorpions fight. As he excitedly peered into habitats, his grandmother, Kelly Webb, said she was excited to bring him to a new feature in the Grand Valley.

“We’re always interested in anything new for him to explore. We’ll definitely be back when they get more stuff,” Webb said.

Future exhibits include a honeybee hive that will be enclosed behind plexiglass this April. Gardner said she hopes the center will attract enough attention and donations to make the zoological group’s goal of opening a larger facility a reality.

“I see this as the first step,” she said.


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