GLEN ECHO – For decades, Glen Echo Park has provided entertainment for individuals and families, as well as an opportunity for history buffs to learn about the life and times of Red Cross founder Clara Barton, whose house is on the premises.
Now, the park offers visitors a chance to see and learn about various species of marine life in the Chesapeake Bay.
The Glen Echo Park Aquarium, which opened in September, is a labor of love for its director, Andrew Wilson.
“My dad was a Navy pilot, so I’ve always lived by the beach, including the Chesapeake Bay for some years,” Wilson said. Wilson would go on to serve in the Navy himself and study Marine biology.
“When I got out, I was still in love with the sea,” Wilson said. Wilson worked as a scuba instructor for several years before starting his own educational company, Under the Sea, which brings live sea animals into classrooms. When he heard that Glen Echo planned to devote some space to a nature center, Wilson submitted his proposal for the aquarium, which was accepted.
The aquarium is designed to provide the visitor with a “walk-through” of the Chesapeake Bay. Its numerous tanks feature animals that live in all sections of the watershed, from the streams of West Virginia to the bay itself, such as bluegills, catfish and blue crabs.
“We want people to learn about the animals that in the Chesapeake Bay and what they can do to help protect them,” Wilson said. Among the conservation efforts the aquarium plans to introduce in the coming months is an oyster shell recycling center.
“People who eat oysters locally can bring the shells to us, and we will return them to the Bay, where baby oysters can glue themselves to them,” Wilson said.
In addition to the exhibit tanks, the aquarium also features a “touch tank,” where visitors can hold clams, hermit crabs, and other animals, several outdoor ponds, and a large wooden ship, which Wilson calls the Aquarium’s “nautical classroom.”
“It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but I feel like the people inside are really knowledgeable and good at talking to kids and making it a hands-on experience,” said Laura Hatch, who visited with her children on Saturday. “I expect we’ll come back as they add more things.”
At present, the aquarium is only open on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $6 per person, $5 for military personnel and seniors, and children under 2 years old are admitted free. Wilson said that hours will expand to five days a week Wednesday through Sunday in May after the park’s carousel opens for business. More information about the aquarium is available online at www.gepaquarium.org.