GLEN — Children’s theme park Story Land opens the doors to its new Living Shores Aquarium on Monday, Nov. 4.
“There is nothing like this close by,” curator David Houghton said.
Located on Route 16, adjacent to and north of Story Land, Living Shores is situated in the former Heritage New Hampshire, which from 1976 through 2006, told an interactive history of the Granite State.
Living Shores will emphasize education, conservation and above all, fun, Houghton said.
With more than 32,000 square feet of display space, Living Shores will feature 150 species in a dozen exhibits, several of which allows visitors to have a hands-on experience, including having their fingers gently nibbled by tiny fish; touching a shark or one of many tide-pool denizens; and feeding a stingray and/or tropical bird.
The aquarium also has a digital sandbox where guests can dig and discover marine life living on New England’s beaches and a drawing station where, after coloring a drawing of a fish, they can have it scanned and brought to life in a virtual sea that is displayed on a large screen.
In addition to a gift shop, the aquarium later this month will offer fare from Pasta Mia!, an in-house, “quick-service” Italian restaurant.
A highlight at Living Shores are two huge tanks filled with freshwater fish that are found in New Hampshire, said Houghton, who is a biologist and has spent a quarter century educating people around the country about the natural world.
There are no performing animals at Living Shores, he said, although the small-clawed Asian otters, which are the only mammals at the aquarium, naturally put on quite a show.
Houghton said most of the fish, birds, animals and creatures at the aquarium — the Rain Forest exhibit, for example, has lorikeets, snakes, tortoises, scorpions, poison dart frogs and tarantulas — have been “captive born,” while others are rescues and a small number have been purchased from third parties.
Houghton said the mission is education, conservation and animal welfare. Once Living Shores has completed its obligatory year of operation, it will apply for accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The AZA on its website noted that of the 2,800 wildlife exhibitors licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture under the Animal Welfare Act, less than 10 percent meet its more comprehensive standards.
Overseeing Living Shores comes with many responsibilities but also a lot of fun, said Houghton, who knows the lorikeets by name and is a walking font of knowledge about all the denizens under the aquarium’s roof.
Lauren Hawkins, who is Story Land’s director of marketing, said in addition to delighting visitors of all ages, the opening of Living Shores, for which a grand opening celebration is in the works, will also see an increase in Story Land property-tax payment to the Town of Bartlett, of which Glen is a part.
She said the aquarium will have up to 15 full-time and 50 part-time employees and that unlike Story Land, it will be open year-round.
Dubbed “New Hampshire’s Best Amusement Park for Kids,” Story Land is owned by Palace Entertainment of Newport Beach, Calif., whose Granite State portfolio also includes Water Country in Portsmouth.
Palace Entertainment owns two aquariums — Sea Life Park in Waimanalo, Hawaii, and the Miami Seaquarium in Florida — and that fact was a factor in deciding to build Living Shores, following discussions between the leadership team at Story Land and executives at corporate headquarters.
While Story Land has continually spent money on capital projects, some are of the behind-the-scenes infrastructure that the public might not notice, Hawkins said. She said Story Land last installed a new attraction in 2014, with the Roar-o-Saurus, a wooden roller coaster that, while intended for kids, has also received critical acclaim from adult coaster aficionados.
In the Mount Washington Valley, most activities and attractions are outdoor and therefore highly dependent on the weather, said Hawkins, whereas Living Shores is not.
Hawkins said the aquarium will be a boost to Mount Washington Valley tourism in the “shoulder seasons” of early spring and late fall.