SALINA — The fish are back in the Central Mall’s Bruce Zamrzla Aquarium, an aquarium the late Bruce Zamrzla and a committee of biologist and outdoor enthusiast dreamed of and installed in 1987, at the Central Mall.
The new fish came from the Milford Lake Hatchery, except for a common snapping turtle that has called the aquarium in Salina home for more than eight years.
The aquarium has been closed to the public since late summer. Jim Moore, security manager at the mall, drained the tank, removed everything, cleaned the interior pipes and filters, including rocks, and walls to get it ready for the new fish.
The aquarium is the largest freestanding fish tank in Kansas. It is named for Bruce Zamrzla, a fish biologist who was instrumental in the creation of the aquarium project back in the mid-1980’s. Bruce chose the fish species. He provided the expertise for developing the aquatic habitat and monitoring the underwater life support system. The aquarium opened in 1987.
“Zam” died in a car accident in 1994. The mall and a team of cohorts who worked with Bruce to develop this popular attraction dedicated the 25-foot-long structure to Bruce. There is a 6-foot-tall monolith in front of the 15,000-gallon aquarium that tells the story.
And now, 25 years after his death, Bruce Zamzrla’s life and work continue to have a positive impact on people in central Kansas.
As Bruce’s widow Jeanette Zamrzla, of Lindsborg, watched the new fish being introduced into the tank, she remembered Bruce’s passion for fish and environmental education.
“Bruce loved to teach,” she said. “He would have loved to have a class of kids here. He really believed that if you can teach people about the environment, they’ll care for it, and if they participate in the environment, they’ll care for it. And, water quality was important to him.”
Bryan Sowards, a fish biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, brought the fish to the mall on Tuesday afternoon. He started with 20, though the aquarium can probably hold 50-75, depending on the size. So, he’ll add more, including Striped Bass, Channel Cat, Bluegill, Blue Catfish, Sauger, Walleye and more.
The snapping turtle who stayed in a tank at the mall, was hungry and excited to have company. The Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism will change out the fish next spring, and will continue to bring new fish to the aquarium.
Sue Drayer, property accountant for the Central Mall, wanted to see the aquarium re-opened before Black Friday: “People love the aquarium. I always stop to see how it’s doing. And, people call us with their concerns and observations. So, it’s exciting to see it open again.”
The mall spends about $500 each month to feed the fish.
On the monolith, visitors can learn about Zamrzla’s dedication to environmental education and his approach to life. One of the panels quotes Bruce as saying, “Even in death, there is life.”