The Cook Museum of Natural Science in downtown Decatur was at maximum capacity Friday, its opening day, a museum spokesman said.
“There are so many fun and educational exhibits here, and what’s really cool is it’s here in Decatur, Alabama,” said Abbie Thompson, who attended with her daughter Ivey, 5, and family friends Mary, Whitley and Willow Harris. “The crystals and live animals were probably my favorite part. There’s definitely something in here for everybody.”
That includes an 18-foot replica of a juvenile cactus, a meteorite that visitors can handle, 250 aquatic animals, 60,000 Italian bees and 19 live reptiles in the 11 exhibit galleries.
Mary Harris, a retired educator, said Friday morning’s visit “blew my mind.”
“I loved the aquarium and all the fish,” she said. “There’s so much in here you can’t take it all in during one visit.”
Museum spokesman Mike Taylor said no more than 50 people are allowed in the museum every 15 minutes. Most of the early visitors bought entry tickets online, he said, and more than 1,000 tickets were sold.
The parking lots were near capacity early in the afternoon, and some vehicles bore license plates from as far away as Louisiana and Virginia.
“We had quite a few people come up from Birmingham and down from Nashville,” Taylor said.
Darryle and Nancy Waldron of Decatur were enjoying lunch at the museum’s fast-casual restaurant and expressed wonderment at the 62,000-square-foot museum.
“I am amazed and appreciative of the vision of the Cook family for providing this museum,” Nancy Waldron said.
Her husband said he was impressed with the flow of the exhibits and how well they tied together.
“It’s very well done,” he said. “The planning and time was really worth the effort. They got it right.”
Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling agreed.
“The Cook family now has the sixth-largest pest control company in the country,” he said. “You don’t do that by not doing things right, and the same thing can be said about this museum. What started out as a museum that was going to be in a former auto parts store, they decided to do a capital campaign and it turned into a $32.4 million museum.”
He said he was personally fascinated with the kinetic sand exhibit, and he was not alone. Children and adults shaped the sand into volcanoes and watched virtual lava erupt, or dug holes in the sand to make virtual lakes and rivers.
Taylor called the popular exhibit “sand on steroids.”
Connor McFall, 11, and his brother Wyatt, 11, and sister Abigail, 13, all said they were fascinated by the sand exhibit.
“Everything here is so hands-on,” Connor said. “With the sand, the volcano can become a snowy mountain in an instant. It was so much fun.”
Abigail said she was thankful to the plentiful staff. “If I had a question, there was always a staff member nearby to help me.”
Wyatt said he enjoyed seeing the live animals.
“We were able to actually go inside a beaver dam and see how it works,” he said.
Taylor is expecting a larger crowd today.
“We expect most of our business will come from walk-up visitors and we have already sold a few hundred online tickets for (today),” he said.