Visitors to the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station enter via a virtual reality-type train ride that drops them at the Confluence Gallery, where they can explore the hidden treasures of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. The exhibit features some of the region’s most important fish, from largemouth bass and crappie to two unique “living fossils” — the paddlefish and longnose gar.
“Two of the largest rivers in the country converge here. It’s why St. Louis exists. It was very important for us to honor that,” said Cameron Schoeffel, director of sales and entertainment for St. Louis Aquarium and Wheel Park at Union Station. “Likewise, the train ride pays homage to this great historical landmark building.”
The new aquarium, which spans 120,000 square feet and two stories, is home to more than 13,000 animals from both freshwater and marine environments. Meet fish that inhabit the great rivers the world. Walk under the arching J-wall and watch as more than 60 sharks and rays glide past. Journey to the depths of the ocean and see the luminescent creatures that live there.
There are six diverse galleries in all, each presenting one-of-a-kind experiences and offering a greater understanding of our world’s aquatic life. Schoeffel’s favorite? “Our North American River Otters inhabit a two-story exhibit with a slide and a dig pit, and they’re just really playful and social,” he said. “It’s a pretty awesome exhibit.”
The second floor includes a variety of interactive exhibits and touch tanks, and the nonprofit St. Louis Aquarium Foundation will be providing STEM-based science displays and experiments about clean rivers, carbon footprints, and aquatic habitat preservation from its onsite Conservation & Education Center. Much of the programming will be focused on the Mississippi River watershed — the largest in the country.
“We live here in this community, as do the aquarium’s designers and builders,” said Schoeffel. “You can see it in our design, and you’ll be able to see it in the education and community outreach programs developed here. Ultimately, our goal is to build a community that cares and acts to protect water and the life it sustains.”
Beyond the Aquarium
Of course, as anyone who has driven through downtown St. Louis in the past few months knows, the new attractions at Union Station aren’t limited to the indoors. The $187 million family entertainment complex also showcases a 200-foot-tall Ferris wheel, a classic carousel, and an 18-hole mini golf course.
The two-acre River Park and nearby Union Station Lake are free and allow for unstructured play and relaxation in a beautiful natural setting. (Be sure to check out the latter’s Fire & Light show from the boardwalk.) Hungry? Grab a bite at one of three restaurants: the St. Louis Union Station Soda Fountain, the Train Shed, and the 1894 Café. The popular Fudgery is also returning.
We can’t wait to try out the Mirror Maze — designed to confound and confuse those who dare to enter — and the Ropes Course that gives visitors a chance to climb and zip along the train shed pillars. All aboard!
Author: Brad Kovach is the editor/publisher of Terrain Magazine.