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Below The Surface

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

New Digs for the Wood Turtle


Building a new habitat for our wood turtle was a long-term goal for me as part of the Animal Care Department at ECHO. I love the turtles here at ECHO, but I’m also very excited about the exhibit design opportunities in my job.

ECHO's wood turtle enjoying some time in the "sun"
The wood turtle is a species that has been labeled by US Fisheries and Wildlife as "being of special concern". Our wood turtle has been here for a long time, happily residing in an aquatic tank on the exhibit floor with a huge log in the center for her to bask on. The turtle was perfectly healthy, but always in the back of my mind was the incorrect representation of a natural wood turtle environment.

While wood turtles winter in streams, during the warmer months they spend much of their time in terrestrial environments. In fact, wood turtles can often be found as far as 1,000 ft. from water in wooded areas (hence the name wood turtle). I wanted to create an exhibit piece to go inside that aquatic display that would act as a land area for the turtle. Purchasing a professionally-made exhibit piece is financially prohibitive, plus it takes all the fun and creativity out of it. After much research about the plants often found in the wood turtle’s native habitat and what these areas look like, I decided to build an eroding riverbank to fill about 70 percent of the habitat.

A broader view of the new land platform in the wood turtle exhibit. 
My crew of volunteers and I spent nine months building this fiberglass and resin exhibit insert. First we cut plywood and chicken wire to create a mold on which to build the exhibit. Then layers of fiberglass fabric and resin were applied. The final layers of resin held dirt and pebbles to create a natural feel. Two silver maple trunks and a stump suggest a wooded environment. Ferns provide the cover for the turtle to feel hidden and secure. Roots and rocks emerge from the muddy bank and spill into the water, creating a slope that the turtle has no problem crawling in and out of the water on.

When we were finally able to install the exhibit we were quite pleased with the aesthetic effect, though the turtle was not. The wood turtle spent a week and a half hesitantly exploring the new terrestrial aspect of her habitat, but mainly remained in the aquatic section of the tank that was familiar to her. Now, almost three weeks later the turtle can often be found basking on her pebbly beach or nosing around in the ferns and stumps. Congratulations wood turtle, you have returned to the riparian woods!

Tessa Faye-Foulds, ECHO Environmental Exhibit Specialist

Monday, June 4, 2012

New Lakeside Experience: Dealer.com Terrace

On a beautiful May afternoon, colleagues from ECHO, Dealer.com, and the City of Burlington joined together to dedicate the Dealer.com Terrace at ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center.  To enjoy photos from the event, please go to our Facebook album. As part of the Get Closer to the Lake initiative, the Dealer.com Terrace provides a covered, lakeside dinining, meeting, and educational location. Sugarsnap at ECHO will provide a full menu daily as well as a bar and dinner service on select evenings throughout the summer season.

One of the main "teaching" features of the Dealer.com Terrace is the rain garden. The garden uses rainwater runoff from the roof and upper decks of ECHO and channels it into a garden filled with native plants of the Lake Champlain Basin. The water is then filtered through the garden, then through porous cement before it flows, cleanly, into Lake Champlain.

Phelan Fretz, Executive Director of ECHO, Rick Gibbs, President and Chief Technology Officer or Dealer.com, and Mayor Miro Weinberger all spoke at the event.


Rick Gibbs, CTO of Dealer.com flanked by Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger on his left and ECHO Executive Director Phelan Fretz on his right.
Rick Gibbs summed up the day’s festivities with these words:

Guests enjoy the beautiful and spacious Dealer.com Terrace and Rain Garden on the Waterfront side of ECHO
Burlington is fortunate to have such an impressive science center. ECHO does more than educate and inform visitors through its interactive exhibits and programs – it is a community gathering place where people of all ages come together to learn, to visit, to be inspired. Places like ECHO are what establishes the fabric of our unique community.
When ECHO was looking for corporate partners for their expansion project, it was a natural fit for Dealer.com.  We are both dedicated to the community, we both have a deep commitment to preserving the environment and our natural resources, and we both leverage science and technology to enhance our customers’ experiences.
It’s our belief that the more people feel connected to the environment and the more they enjoy it, the more compelled they will feel to preserve it. This Terrace is a remarkable example of ECHO’s thoughtful integration of relaxation, beauty, and education – and Dealer.com is deeply proud to have been a part of its development.

The Dealer.com Terrace is open every day to the general public and can be reserved for your next special event.

Friday, June 1, 2012

E-Team: Thanks for a Great Year


The 2011/2012 E-Team session is coming to a close I want to take a moment to thank all of the teens involved. I find myself reflecting on my first year as the leader of this group I am overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and dedication to ECHO these high-school students have shown over the past academic year. 

E-Team member teaches guests about the water cycle.
When we started our work back in October, we were all relatively new to ECHO and the idea that the E-Team would be able to take over and run ECHO for programs was daunting to many. But these teens jumped right in, learning about object interpretation, natural sciences, environmental stewardship, the history and culture of the Champlain Basin. Collectively, the E-Team has mastered over twenty encounters, been on multiple field-trips that have encouraged off-site volunteering and the exploration of new experiences (such as the recent sailing excursion) and logged more than 1,500 volunteer hours. 

E-Team members talk about animals in the Sea Tank.

On top of these accomplishments the E-Team was able to take over operations and educational programming – opening the doors of ECHO to community groups after hours and successfully runing three Community Science Nights.   


While you will still be able to see some members of the E-Team helping educate and delight guests here at ECHO though the summer, the original team has already worked their final shifts and is getting ready for its final, celebratory meeting. To all of the E-Team – thank you from the entire staff here at ECHO. You’re contributions have been enormous. Additionally, you all have my personal thanks, congratulations and very best wishes for the future! Great work team - after a long year you deserve to take a rest. 

Relaxing after a long day of teaching guests.