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The City Journals

Science, artwork and nature welcome visitors at aquarium’s new Rio Tinto Kennecott Plaza

Jul 27, 2020 10:58AM ● By Katherine Weinstein

The new Rio Tinto Kennecott Plaza features garden spaces and walkways under EECO (Ecosystem Exploration Craft & Observatory). (Photo courtesy Loveland Living Planet Aquarium)

By Katherine Weinstein | [email protected]

If you stand directly underneath the 165-foot tall EECO (Ecosystem Exploration Craft & Observatory) at Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, you can still see a reminder of the structure’s former life as the outdoor stage for U2’s 360° World Tour. The disco ball that once reflected a myriad of lights onto audiences still hangs inside the center of EECO. 

No one could have imagined that the outdoor stage known as “the Claw” would one day find a permanent home in Utah as a sort of beacon, inviting visitors to explore and learn about the natural world.

Guests are now able to get an up-close look at EECO and explore the pathways, gardens and outdoor exhibit spaces that comprise the new Rio Tinto Kennecott Plaza. The Plaza and Welcome Center are the latest additions to the Aquarium’s Science Learning Campus. 

“The entire focus of the plaza, gardens and EECO is education. It is much like an outdoor museum,” explained Chief Operating Officer Heather Doggett. “Science and art work hand in hand to teach us about our world.” 

In a press release, Aquarium founder and CEO Brent Anderson stated, “We want visitors to learn that we can have a big impact on the world through our choices. There will be learning experiences for every age, from 2 to 92.”

The Rio Tinto Kennecott Plaza is created around three educational themes: Curiosity, Connections and Choices. The microscopic world of otherworldly tiny creatures such as tardigrades and mites are brought to life for guests to explore in the Curiosity section. Colorful sculptures of these animals created by Utah artist Cory Clawson are on display.

The theme of the Connections section focuses on water and how this vital element connects us to animals and ecosystems around the world. A water table and zipline activity is planned for that area. 

The Choices area features displays on how personal choices make an impact on the larger world along with a coral community play area. The Zen garden area nearby is filled with cacti and succulents “to look like a coral bed,” said horticulturalist Lucas Proctor.

Other garden areas in the Plaza contain plants native to the different environments of Utah. The goal is to establish a botanical garden. “I am creating a lot of educational material specific to plants,” Proctor explained. 

There is much for guests to explore on the Plaza in addition to these themed educational areas. The stone walkways, for example, are engraved with inspiring quotes from visionary thinkers ranging from Carl Sagan to Dr. Seuss. 

The outdoor stage directly beneath EECO is intended to become a community gathering space. “It can be used for whatever our imaginations come up with—music, dance, art, movie nights,” said Doggett. “We can create a fun time for the community.” 

Special events on the plaza, such as adults-only evenings under the colorful, ever-changing lights of EECO, are planned. Areas of the plaza will also be available for private rentals, from family gatherings to corporate picnics.

Standing beneath EECO and looking out at the plaza, Anderson remarked, “It’s been an exciting process of creation and design. I’m excited to see how it’s come together, even better than the original concept. As a team, we were able to create something and then refine it, shift things around. It’s been a challenging, fun process. It makes everything a joy to do.”

Future plans for the Science Learning Campus include a 90,000-square-foot Science Learning Center. Fundraising is underway for the project. More information on the Aquarium’s expansion is found at www.thelivingplanet.com/plaza.

Loveland Living Planet Aquarium and the Rio Tinto Kennecott Plaza are currently open with limited capacity and social distancing measures in place. Guests may reserve a time to visit on the Aquarium’s website at www.thelivingplanet.com/welcomeback.  

The Aquarium is located at 12033 Lone Peak Parkway in Draper.