Mar 202002

One of Denver’s newest and most troubled landmarks is about to go quietly into that good night.

Colorado’s Ocean Journey, a risky, innovative aquatic attraction along the banks of the Platte River, is closing its doors April 2 due to lack of money and lack of interest.

Is anyone else as upset by this as I am?

Denver’s mayor said the city can’t afford to subsidize the aquarium. Colorado’s governor said the state can’t, either. Apparently, no one in the Denver metro area cares much at all.

Barring a groundswell of support for the embattled sea attraction, Ocean Journey will go away and have to find new homes for its 8,000 creatures and new jobs for its 150 employees.

It wasn’t always this way. After the aquarium opened its doors in June 1999, it ranked sixth in the nation among all aquariums – 912,000 people visited the first year.

And it looks like none went back.

As sad as I am about this, I must confess: I, too, only went to Ocean Journey once.

I’ve been too busy to go again, and it cost me 15 bucks, plus parking. I liked it, but I never made the time to go back. My failure to return is a sign of a much larger problem.

Ocean Journey never had fantastic public relations or promotional campaigns. On its opening day, its outdoor attractions weren’t finished, there were no spectacular temporary attractions and there was little or no parking. These symptoms may have frustrated visitors to the point of no return – literally.

And Ocean Journey isn’t cheap. Consider this: A family of four can see a Rockies game for around $20, if they sit in the Rockpile, park far away and don’t buy $5 Coors Lights and $3.95 hot dogs. It’s a relatively cheap endeavor.

Ocean Journey, on the other hand, would cost the same family about $60 just for admission – that doesn’t include parking, snacks or the inevitable plush whale souvenirs. It’s a white-collar place, not very conducive to regular visits.

I also admit I went to Ocean Journey skeptical of the aquarium’s quality. I’ve traveled all over the world and seen some of the best aquariums out there – I used to be a marine biology enthusiast – and I knew there was no way Ocean Journey would compare to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, the Baltimore Aquarium or the Scripps Oceanography Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

Still, the point is that Denver is losing something of real value.

Yeah, maybe it’s not located in the best possible spot in town. Sure, maybe it’s not as cheap as the zoo (which DOES get public funding). OK, maybe it’s no Sea World.

But Ocean Journey is an educational, interesting and mind-opening place.

Its CEO, Doug Townsend, said with a catch in his voice that the things he’ll miss most are the looks on children’s faces when they see the three Sumatran tigers or stand on the glass above the nurse sharks.

“This may be the first and now may be the last opportunity (for them) to explore the aquatic world,” Townsend told the Rocky Mountain News.

It is truly sad that Denver’s government and its people are unwilling to prevent the aquarium’s demise. I feel incredibly guilty that I never went back and now feel obligated to do so while I still can. Were there a public movement to save the aquarium, I’d definitely contribute. But that doesn’t seem likely.

So rest in peace, Ocean Journey. I, for one, will miss you.

Becky Waddingham is a junior majoring in history and journalism.

 Posted by at 6:00 pm

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