By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

When Eric Giesing agreed to help organize the 30-year anniversary of the rediscovery of the black-footed ferret, he never imagined it would be this big.

But it is.

So far, nearly 1,200 school children have signed up to join the host of activities set for Monday at Sternberg Museum of Natural History. That's as many as the museum can handle, ushering the students through activities on a 20-minute schedule, although they are free to stick around as long as they like.

Some school districts, in the face of cost-cutting efforts, have been loathe to approve travel of any distance.

In Great Bend's case, for example, Giesing said, they made an exception, approving four buses to make the trip to Hays.

Students from Hays, Ellinwood, Victoria, Claflin and Wilson will be making the trip.

Students from Kansas State University, Fort Hays State University, Barton County Community Collge and Neosho Community College in Chanute will be stopping in for the evening session, an open house open from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

That's when Giesing suspects hundreds more visitors will visit the celebration.

And all of it's free.

Giesing, the education director at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center, an adjunct to Sternberg, was drawn into the celebration after early plans had to be canceled in Oakley because of the controversy there over prairie dogs and ferret reintroduction efforts.

"It's certainly leaps and bounds from what I ever imagined," he said, "especially from the second floor of a truck stop to 1,200 students. I really didn't anticipate it being this big when I offered to help."

Currently, two of the top ferret specialists in the nation will be among the speakers for the open house.

Dean Biggins, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, involved 30 years ago when the last remaining ferrets were taken into captivity, and Travis Livieri, whose Prairie Wildlife Research Center actively is involved in current reintroduction efforts, will be the speakers. Biggins will speak at 5:30 p.m. and Livieri at 6:30 p.m.

Sternberg will be awash in animals as well.

Giesing said a turkey vulture, barn owl, great horned owl, red-tailed hawk, kestrel, golden eagle and a peregrine falcon will be among the birds on display. There also will be a possum, skunk, prairie dog and a black-footed ferret, brought in by the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

"We're going to have pretty much all the critters from around here," Giesing said.