From its rocky perch above Morro Bay, the Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural History has been educating the public about the ecology of the Central Coast for 50 years.
The museum will celebrate its 50th anniversary from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday with a day of activities and special events. Activities include a sea otter "show and touch" presentation, a treasure hunt for kids, a microscope discovery center, and a tide pool touch tank.
"We invite the community to join us for the celebration," said Rouvaishyana, museum manager.
The museum was the vision of Morro Bay State Park’s first superintendent, Russell Noyes. Since it opened in October 1962, the museum has had an estimated 2.5 million visitors.
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Exhibits at the museum focus on the environment of Morro Bay and its estuary, but also include information about the natural history of the entire Central Coast, Rouvaishyana said.
"My goal is to get people interested enough in the natural environment of the area to go out and experience it for themselves," he said.
As the museum reaches its half-century mark, it continues to evolve to meet new challenges. These include lagging attendance and difficulties maintaining its interactive displays.
Attendance peaked at 60,000 to 80,000 visitors a year in the 1980s and 1990s, but dropped to 40,000 to 50,000 a year after the museum shut down from 2001 to 2002 for renovations. The $3 million modernization project included 26 new exhibits.
Many of these exhibits are interactive such as a tide tank in which water flows in and out when visitors press a button. But these exhibits have experienced maintenance and upkeep problems, and the museum spends $2,000 to $3,000 a year to maintain them.
New exhibits include skeletons of a Risso's dolphin and a minke whale. A mobile sea otter display is staffed by docents each summer weekend at Morro Rock.
Most of the museum’s visitors come from the Los Angeles and Central Valley areas as well as other states and countries, Rouvaishyana said. He hopes San Luis Obispo County residents will rediscover the museum.