By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

There is, as it turns out, room at Sternberg Museum of Natural History for the story of the black-footed ferret's return from the brink of extinction.

Its organizers expect it to be a doozy.

"We have more than enough programs to make this a once-in-a-lifetime event," said Sternberg education director James Leiker.

It won't hurt any that a live ferret will be on display, brought in by the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

The program, in its previous life, was unceremoniously booted out of Oakley when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sought to herald the 30-year anniversary of the rediscovery of the highly endangered mammal.

In its reborn form, a full day of special activities surrounding the ferret and many other animals of the prairie is planned for Nov. 7 at Sternberg. During the day, activities for school children are planned, while an open house is planned for the public later in the evening.

There's room for 1,200 school children during the day, and Leiker said all but a few of those slots were snatched up the first day word went out about the event.

Calls have been pouring in to the museum, he said, and people have said they will be attending the open house. There's no need to reserve a spot for the open house, however.

Activities will be taking place throughout the museum, as well as outside on the Howard Reynolds Nature Trails.

The Kansas celebration was moved well out of Oakley after efforts to celebrate the rediscovery of the ferret were canceled.

Prairie dog opponents objected to Logan County letting the federal wildlife agency use the county 4-H building to conduct the open house, and they approached the school district protesting plans to conduct school assemblies to talk about the animal.

FWS then went to Mitten's Truck Stop and were told they could rent a meeting room.

Objections from a handful of customers prompted Mitten's to withdraw permission to use the room.

After almost abandoning all plans for a celebration, FWS was urged to look elsewhere -- even if it meant moving out of the immediate vicinity where ferrets have been released.

In the meantime, however, Logan County residents Tim and Rebekah Peterson stepped forward and volunteered their rural residence as the focal point of a local celebration.

That event is Nov. 5, and is separate from the one at Sternberg.

In fact, FWS wildlife biologist Dan Mulhern won't be attending the Peterson event, thinking it's best he avoid it in the wake of the controversy that scuttled the agency's earlier plans.

He will, however, be at the Hays meeting, perhaps even presenting one of the primary talks during the open house portion of the event in the evening.

"The folks at Fort Hays State University's Sternberg Museum, they just caught fire and they are real excited about it," he said.

Letters have gone out to area schools, and 20-minute blocks have been carved out to provide programs for students. Total time at the museum will be 90 minutes, although teachers can choose to stay longer.

A live ferret from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo will be on display in the lobby of the museum, as well other animals. Skunks, opossums and prairie dogs will be on hand.

Video displays of the black-footed ferret reintroduction program in Logan County will be shown. There also will be displays from various zoos in the state.

"It's an opportunity to come and learn about what's going on in ferret recovery," Mulhern said of the purpose of the event.

It will not, however, be just about ferrets.

There will be details about the range of animals using prairie dog dens.

Life on the prairie after dark will be among the demonstrations, as will birds of the prairies.

Outside on the nature trail will be details about a healthy prairie and the food web of the prairie.

While they are planning perhaps a couple talks during the open house, the program is designed to let people look over the displays. Scheduled talks are set for 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. during the open house.