Arroyo Grande museum to give up-close look at watershed, marine life

Something fishy is going on at the Central Coast Salmon Enhancement property in Arroyo Grande — and it’s not a bad thing.

The nonprofit organization, dedicated to restoring and educating the public about the Arroyo Grande Creek ecosystem, is building a Watershed Education Center that will give kids and families an opportunity to learn about the watershed, including the marine life that call it home.

The Watershed Education Center is expected to open by early next year, but the public will get a chance to preview some of the exhibits at a free open house planned for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

“We’re trying to open this new space up for students to come and get some hands-on experience with the watershed,” CCSE Executive Director Christopher Lim said. “We have this open space where we can have kids come down and really experience and have fun with the creek.”

The center is being created at CCSE’s office in Arroyo Grande at 229 Stanley Ave., between Paulding Middle School and Arroyo Grande Creek.

The group routinely hosts science camps and school groups at the creekside property, with outdoor activities to raise awareness about watersheds. The new museum will expand the educational exhibits and open up the experience to more people on a day-to-day basis, Lim said.

The new museum will feature four aquariums filled with fish and plant life: two freshwater tanks — one with native and another with invasive species — one brackish (a mix of saltwater and freshwater), and a final tank filled with seawater and marine life that you would find in local tide pools.

The museum also will have hands-on exhibits to give visitors a chance to learn about the importance of a healthy watershed, Lim said.

“They’re really going to be fun, MacGyver-style activities,” he said, noting that the group has partnered with another local nonprofit group, the STEAM Trunk Initiative, to craft the educational exhibits.

One such exhibit is already in place: a model of the local watershed, with actual water running through the systems, showing students how water flows to treatment plants and can be recycled back for irrigation and other uses. (CCSE’s model shows the water going to irrigate local golf courses, for example.)

On Thursday, Lim previewed the model to a group of students, who he said were “pretty impressed” with the exhibit and the first of the four planned aquariums, this one filled with rainbow trout.

“Everybody likes to see live animals,” he said. “Especially the ones that you wouldn’t necessarily see except in the wild — they get a kick out of it.”

The group is still looking for donations to go toward creating exhibits and funding the new center. They hope to add more hands-on activities, have fish feedings and possibly even a Pismo Clam exhibit, Lim said, though all of that will depend on donors and securing outside funding.

In total, the entire museum is expected to cost about $100,000 to create.

The free open house Saturday includes live music and hands-on activities and information by Lopez Lake’s DEER program, Monarch Butterfly Grove, Delphinus School of Natural History, One Cool Earth, Arroyo Grande in Bloom, Master Gardener’s Club, STEAM for Girls and interactive exhibits by STEAM Trunk.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie