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New exhibits unveiled at River Museum

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Dubuque (KWWL) -- Officials have announced more specific plans for the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque which is expanding into the former Diamond Jo casino building. There will be a number of new exhibits, a theater, and new research opportunities.

Down in the basement of the museum and aquarium, out of the public eye, researchers work with animals that almost went away forever.

"What we're trying to do is make sure that the species that we love and educate about are also preserved longterm," executive director Jerry Enzler said.

One example: Wyoming Toads. Researchers once thought they were extinct. Turns out there were a few -- six exactly -- living in Wyoming. Now, there's thousands, around 3,000 of them bred in Dubuque.

The museum and aquarium expansion will have even more potential for research. The new "Great River Center" will look at how waterways work together, like the Mississippi's journey to and impact on the ocean.

"We're working on, very concerned with improving habitat on the upper Mississippi River, not only on the main channel, but on the streams and the backwaters. We're also working on making a difference in nitrogen loading, which causes the dead zone in the gulf of mexico. Those are problems that start in the upper river and flow down to the lower river," Enzler said.

Researchers say they are looking at new projects, including fresh water mussel research.

"The research is really kind of the hidden gem of what we do at the museum and aquarium," Enzler said.

Museum officials will have a design package from the exhibit designers in the next two weeks and will then start with construction plans. The expansion should be complete in the summer of 2010.

Monday, the museum also announced its new 2009 exhibit "Lizards on the Loose" As part of the exhibit promotion, Dubuque area businesses and organizations can adopt and decorate a lizard statue for $2,000. The promotion is similar to the past "Who Let the Frogs Out?" display. All of the lizards will be displayed around town by June 1st when the exhibit opens.

Online Reporter:  Jamie Grey

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