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Critters Park Reopens

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The Three Lakes Nature Center and Aquarium is ready to show off its fish, snakes and spiders once again.

Before Tropical Storm Gaston, the park's nature center was one of Henrico County's hidden treasures. Tucked away off Wilkinson Road behind quiet northeastern Henrico neighborhoods, the park and nature center stood toe-to-toe with Civil War battlefields and highbrow art museums.

"At one point it was consistently in the top 10 of the most visited attractions in the Richmond metropolitan area," Henrico Recreation & Parks Director Karen Mier says.

That was before 2004, when Gaston dumped more than a foot of water on Richmond within a few short hours.

"The complete interior — including our exhibits — were destroyed by floodwaters," Mier says. "The building was without power for days. It was no different than anybody else who's had their house flooded. The entire building had to be repaired."

Except that anybody else's house doesn't have a 50,000-gallon aquarium that adjoins a lake or dozens of terrariums filled with all manner of snakes, spiders and other creepy-crawlies.

When the waters came, Mier says, "It was like a 'Free Willy' thing." Many of the mature catfish, bass, sunfish and carp in the aquarium escaped into an adjoining lake. Luckily, the terrariums were spared from the floodwaters. The repairs wound up costing about $1 million, Mier says.

Repairs are done, replacement fish have been restored to the aquarium, and on Saturday, April 21, from 1 to 4 p.m., the county will play host to a grand reopening in conjunction with Earth Day festivities. S

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