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Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium

Outdoor Education Center

Location: The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium nestles amid the picturesque beauty of Schramm Park State Recreation Area on the banks of the Platte River in eastern Nebraska. The area is located approximately 9 miles south of Gretna on Nebr. 31 or 6 miles south of Exit 432 on Interstate 80.

Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium
Outdoor Education Center
21502 West Highway 31
Gretna, NE 68028

Phone: 402-332-3901 Aquarium Director is Tony Korth
email: tony.korth@nebraska.gov

Operation

The Aquarium is open year-round (including some holidays). To arrange a tour, call (402) 332-3901. Admission is FREE. There are no concessions or indoor eating facilities. Hours of operation include:

Winter
Dec. 1-Mar. 31
10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday
Closed Mondays, Tuesdays

Spring
Apr. 1 - Friday before Memorial Day
10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Monday
Closed Tuesdays

Summer
Memorial Weekend-Labor Day
10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekdays
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays

Fall
Wednesday after Labor Day-Nov. 30
10 am.-4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Monday
Closed Tuesdays and Thanksgiving

This complex is the only facility of its type in the Great Plains. Many organizations and individuals worked long and hard to bring it into reality. Its 12,000 square feet include the aquarium, terrarium, natural history classroom, World Herald Auditorium, orientation and display area, and office space. Exterior of the building is fluted concrete block and stone from a local quarry. The viewing area itself is somewhat unusual, since the 12 display tanks are placed on the outside of a circle and spaced so only one tank is visible at a time . . . adding to the visitor's enjoyment. Aquarium tanks are pre-cast concrete and have one-inch thick glass. The windows were custom-made in England.

The extra-large tank holds 1,450 gallons of water and has two viewing windows. It is designed to display paddlefish and other large Nebraska fish species. The other 11 tanks hold either 480 or 580 gallons of water, depending on the use of the tank. These tanks are constructed to permit placement of a glass at the back of the tank to reduce the water capacity to 480 gallons and provide a dry area for vegetation and display materials. This design gives the units added dimension, with the illusion of no corners. Inside the aquarium are the laboratory, food preparation area, and fish holding tanks for additional fish that are being readied for exhibition. In the orientation and display area, the large terrarium houses various reptiles and amphibians.

Believe it or not, there are 11,000 pounds of rock in the aquariums, all of which were individually washed by hand. They are part of the biological filter system (similar to that in a home aquarium) used in each tank. All fish, as well as the species in the terrarium, are maintained on an artificial diet prepared in the aquarium "kitchen." The base is finely ground fish food and clear gelatin to which is added beef heart, vitamins C and Pre-Mix, cod liver oil and paprika. The paprika enhances the fishes' natural colors, making their individual characteristics more discernible to the viewer. In addition, beef heart, crickets and meal worms are fed to some of the fish and other display specimens.

The major problem encountered by any aquarium biologist is the many diseases that fish are prone to. They must be recognized early and treated as quickly as possible. Consequently, new fish are held in quarantine tanks and examined for disease before being placed on display. Many are quite common, while others are rarely sighted. Displays include:

Species on Display

All of the various species on display in both the aquarium and large terrarium are either native to Nebraska or have been successfully introduced here. Exhibits depict a cross-section of species found in the state's many ponds, lakes and streams. Many are quite common, while others are rarely sighted.

Fish
Paddlefish Redear Sunfish
Shovelnose Sturgeon River Carpsucker
Largemouth Bass Smallmouth Bass
Bowfin Buffalofish
Crappie Gar
Channel Catfish Yellow Perch
Flathead Catfish Walleye
Blue Catfish Goldeye
Sauger Rainbow Trout
Albino Catfish Freshwater Drum
Brook Trout Bullhead
BrownTrout Burbot
Northern Pike White Bass
Topwater Minnows Rock Bass
Tiger Muskie Green Sunfish
Shiners Wiper
 
Reptiles and Amphibians
Mud Turtle Box Turtle
Bullfrogs Tree Frogs
Leopard Frogs Tiger Salamander
Crawdads Snapping Turtle
Painted Turtle Blandings Turtle
Spiny Softshell Turtle
Box Turtle Bullfrogs
Tree Frogs Leopard Frogs
Tiger Salamander Crawdads
 

Friends of the Aquarium

This exceptional facility would not exist without its many friends. Original funding came from many sources...$350,000 in state funds; $300,000 from the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben, an Omaha-based non-profit organization; nearly $60,000 from the Omaha World Herald Foundation, and many smaller contributions from caring groups and individuals. Such donations are recognized on a plaque near the office, and the donor will receive a certificate of appreciation. Since only a nominal admission fee is charged, gifts to the "Friends of the Aquarium" fund are most helpful.

Cornhusker Fly Fishers

Cornhusker Fly Fishers meets at the Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium Outdoor Education Center the third Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. If you have an interest in fly fishing, fly tying or water conservation this may be the group for you. For more information call (402) 332-3901.

Schramm Park Photography Club

The Schramm Park Photography Club meets at the Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium Outdoor Education Center the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. If you are interested in photographing nature this group may be of interest to you. If you have questions, call the aquarium at (402) 332-3901.

State's First Hatchery

In 1879, the Nebraska Board of Fish Commissioners contracted with the Santee Hatchery to raise trout and salmon. Three years later, the agency purchased that facility for $81,200. The 54-acre tract became the Gretna Fish Hatchery, the state's first fish hatchery and recreational area. It included the hatchery and adjoining woodlands.

The original hatch house was replaced in 1914 at a cost of S4,000. That building still stands. It operated as a hatchery and/or fish-holding facility until phased out in 1974, because of a lack of necessary water. The structure was 32 feet wide by 48 feet long with 16-foot side walls. The interior was finished in yellow pine. It contained open raceways and viewing aquariums.

When it could no longer be operated as a hatchery, the area was transferred to the Parks Division. It was combined with 277 adjoining acres willed to the Game and Parks Commission by the late E. E Schramm, a geology professor at the University of Nebraska. His will stipulated the area be used as a public park and field study area as a memorial to his parents. The combined 331-acre area is now known as Schramm Park State Recreation Area

The hatch house has undergone a complete refurbishing and is now operated as a Fish Hatchery Museum. The hours are the same as those for the Aquarium. Be sure to visit the museum while you are at Schramm.

Schramm is also the locale of the state's first fish hatchery, and the grand opening of the aquarium appropriately coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Game and Parks Commission in 1979.

Long a popular picnic spot, Schramm has much to offer visitors. After viewing the aquarium exhibits, you can take in the other attractions at the area.

The rolling hills of the Platte Valley create a marvelous natural setting for the facility. Wild flowers are rampant in the spring and summer, and you can stroll a 3-mile nature trail. You can take in the Gretna Fish Hatchery Museum and view even more fish in the Canyon Ponds near the old hatchery site. You will also find several species of ducks and geese at home on the ponds.

Although there's no camplng at Schramm, you can pitch a tent or park a rig at nearby Louisville State Recreation Area, just about 5 miles east and south across the Platte River.

 


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