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Flint RiverQuarium prepares for 10th 'birthday' celebration | PHOTO GALLERY

Butterfly exhibit highlight of Albany attraction's anniversary weekend

Flint RiverQuarium Board Chairwoman/interim President Emily Jean McAfee and COO Tommy Gregors look over a butterfly container that will be part of the attraction’s Sept. 4-6 10th birthday celebration. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

Flint RiverQuarium Board Chairwoman/interim President Emily Jean McAfee and COO Tommy Gregors look over a butterfly container that will be part of the attraction’s Sept. 4-6 10th birthday celebration. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — The Flint RiverQuarium will celebrate its 10th “birthday” Sept. 4-6, and the guests of honor for the party are a group of North Florida butterflies.

RiverQuarium supporters and patrons are invited to get up-close-and-personal with butterflies from the Earltown, Fla., Great House Butterfly Farm at a special Sept. 4-6 exhibit brought to the downtown Albany attraction to help celebrate its 10th year as a hub of tourist activity in the city’s central business district.

“Businesses and industries have anniversaries; we’re still young enough to celebrate birthdays,” Emily Jean McAfee, the chairwoman of the Riverquarium’s board of directors and the attraction’s interim volunteer president, said. “To celebrate our birthday, the butterfly exhibit is our gift to our volunteers, supporters, benefactors, members and the public.”

A 20-foot by 20-foot mesh tent will be set up on the RiverQuarium grounds over the attraction’s birthday weekend, and as many as 32 separate tours of the exhibit will be available for patrons on Sept. 5 and 6. A private, invitation-only preview tour has been scheduled for benefactors of the RiverQuarium on Sept. 4, and appreciation tours have been scheduled for volunteers and RiverQuarium members on Sept. 5.

“People who want to walk through the exhibit will be given a wristband with a specific time slot for their tour,” RiverQuarium COO Tommy Gregors said. “There is room for about 40 people with each time slot, and once each slot is filled up, that’s it. For people who get a later time slot, there will be all kinds of activities going on at the RiverQuarium to keep them busy.”

The NOVA movie “The Incredible Journey of the Butterflies” will have continuous showings at the attraction’s Imagination IMAX Theatre Nov. 5 and 6, while interactive activities, arts and crafts opportunities, and a number of other exhibits will be available from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.

After the Nov. 4 benefactor preview, which will include live music, beverages and food, 16 daily tours of the butterfly exhibit will be scheduled for both Nov. 5 and Nov. 6. For patrons who want an early start to their RiverQuarium adventure, breakfasts will be served on both days starting at 9 a.m. Cost for the meal is $12.50 for one adult and one child and $4.50 for each additional child.

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The RiverQuarium’s octopus is one of the favorites of the 70,000-plus who visit the attraction each year. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

“There will be a limited number of slots available for the breakfasts, so you might want to make reservations in advance to assure you’re included,” Gregors said.

Gregors said he expects a number of school, senior and church groups to fill up exhibit tour slots on Friday.

“We have a discounted price ($4.50 per patron) for groups of 20 or more,” McAfee said. “And that includes all the activities at the RiverQuarium.

“I visited (Great House Butterfly Farm) in Florida and it’s just incredible. I started following the exhibit, and Tommy and I had an opportunity to visit it at a natural area in Dunwoody. We thought it would be perfect for the RiverQuarium, a perfect addition to the education component of our programs.”

Albany City Commissioner Roger Marietta, who has long been a supporter of the RiverQuarium and has pushed for city funding for the attraction, said he’s proud to see the RiverQuarium celebrate its 10th year in the community.

“I’m really pleased that they no longer have to worry about survival, that they can focus on educating our youth,” Marietta said. “I’m pleased that our community has embraced the RiverQuarium as a tourist attraction and as a central part of the community’s economic development. I endorse the city’s funding of the RiverQuarium, and I was pleased to find out during the last round of (funding) talks that the county gives SPLOST (special-purpose local-options sales tax) and in-kind support, too.

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Andrew Dettore, 4, and his grandmother, Mary Long, enjoy an afternoon at the weather-controlled Flint RiverQuarium in Albany Tuesday. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

“I’m also pleased with Tommy Gregors’ efforts to reach out to DNR (Department of Natural Resources) and to the state. That will really pay off in the future.”

Gregors said that while RiverQuarium officials are not asking state agencies for funding for the attraction, they are looking for increased visibility through statewide marketing efforts. The RiverQuarium was build utilizing mostly state funds through DNR.

“We’re looking forward to future partnerships with DNR and other state agencies,” Gregors said.

McAfee, meanwhile, said community support through the “50 for Albany” fundraising campaign and other such initiatives will continue to pay dividends.

“We take a lot of things for granted, and in this community we certainly take the Flint River and its environmental health for granted,” she said. “It’s extremely important we teach our citizens — especially our young ones — about our environment and about conservation. One of our future projects that we plan to announce in the fall is the creation of a nice outdoor learning venue that will be a vital educational component of the RiverQuarium.”

For patrons like Mary Long, who brought her 4-year-old grandson Andrew Dettore to the RiverQuarium Tuesday for a fun afternoon, the weather-controlled attraction is the perfect way to spend a lazy summer afternoon. Marietta says he can relate.

“When my grandkids come to Albany, the RiverQuarium is the No. 1 destination they want to go,” he said.