Draper’s Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, 12033 South Lone Peak Parkway, is coming up on its one-year anniversary on March 25. It’s been an exciting year of growth for the world-class facility that is anticipating its one-millionth visitor in February.
“I had originally planned that we might hit around 600,000 visitors at the one-year mark and maybe 800,000 if we were really successful,” Loveland Living Planet Aquarium’s Founder/CEO Brent Andersen said. “I never would have thought we’d reach one million. We are now ranked ninth in the nation in attendance.”
To celebrate the milestone, the aquarium is giving its one-millionth guest a trip to Hawaii.
“Seeing the thousands of guests who visit a day is validation to all of the people who have worked to make this a reality,” Andersen said. “This first year has been bigger, harder, more fun than I thought it would be—it’s been the best.”
Walking through the 136,000-square-foot aquarium with more than 2,000 animals and 450 species on display, it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been open longer. The opening got off to a slow start, but the facility has made up for it now with completed exhibits in all four main galleries, Ocean Explorer, Journey to South America, Discover Utah and Antarctic Adventure.
Its newest attraction is the Caiman exhibit in the Journey to South America gallery, featuring a male and female Caiman. These large aquatic reptiles look a lot like their closest relatives, alligators and crocodiles, and are fun to watch swimming around in the swamp-like habitat they share with the sea turtles. Aquarium officials said Caimans mainly eat fish, small mammals and insects, but thankfully for their exhibit mates, not turtles.
One of the more unique displays to adorn the spacious lobby sometime before September will be life-sized mother and calf whale sculptures, created by local sculptor Stephen Kelser, who also sculpted the enormous whale shark currently suspended from the ceiling.
“We are always looking for new ways to make the best visitor experience,” Andersen said. “We want to create opportunities for entire families to learn and explore.”
One of Andersen’s primary goals is to not only provide fun and interactive exhibits, but also comprehensive outreach and on-site educational programs.
Before the aquarium had a building to call its home, it began in 1999 as the “Aqua Van,” an outreach program with educational exhibits that visited Utah schools. The current facility has built upon this program, adding the “Utah Waters Van” and “Rainforest Van,” both offered at no charge to local area public/charter classrooms, using interactive models and live animals to teach kids about natural ecosystems. Free EcoVenture classes for prekindergarten through 12th grade, field trip opportunities, teacher/professional development programs, and advanced science classes for high school and college students are also available in the expanded education center.
“We never stop recreating,” Andersen said. “For me, it’s not about finishing; it’s about the letters I get from kids saying this is what they want to do when they grow up. That’s how it started for me. Being a part of making an impact in someone’s life is most meaningful.”