There's a whale in the parking lot of the R.C. Willey store. A Wyland whale, that is.

Wyland, America's leading environmental marine life artist, is in Utah to promote his Ocean Challenge art and science program to Utah schools. The foundation's goal is to inspire people to gain a greater awareness of ocean conservation. "Our motto is, one person can make a difference; be that person," said Wyland.The Living Planet Aquarium is hosting Wyland, who painted a huge undersea mural on the wall of the R.C. Willey building at 2301 S. 300 West. Children of all ages were invited to help paint the wall with Wyland on Labor Day. Wyland exclaimed, "Some of these kids are better artists than I am. I'm worried about my job."

Scheduled to open in Salt Lake City in time for the 2002 Winter Games, the Living Planet Aquarium will hold over 1 million gallons of fresh and salt water, making it the ninth major aquarium in the United States.

The aquarium's goal is to pique public interest in the environment and to provide an educational experience for the whole family. "The enthusiasm over the project has been overwhelming. It's like bringing the ocean inland," said Steve Schulkens, executive vice president.

Three exhibit halls will house fish, coral, reptiles, birds and sharks. A re-creation of the Amazon Rain Forest will be a highlight of the 100,000-square-foot aquarium.

Over 1 million visitors a year are expected to visit the facility. "Aquariums are the most popular of museums. People are fascinated with the sea," said Schulkens. Site proposals for the facility are still being considered, but the Utah State Fairpark is the front-runner.

Wyland and his Ocean Challenge team are traveling through 50 states to get schools excited about the ocean. "The program involves math and science. We want to build a bridge between science and art; we all need to work together," said Wyland. "My goal is to paint 100 walls, and my hope is through the Ocean Challenge, kids will paint 100,000."

Well-known for his "Whaling Walls," Wyland has painted 79 undersea murals. His Long Beach, Calif., work is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest mural in the world. The mural is round, 11 stories high and 1280 feet in circumference.

The Ocean Challenge team pulled into the R.C. Willey parking lot on Saturday to get things rolling. "I'm glad it's a collaboration with the kids," said Wyland enthusiastically. "The kids are the ones who will teach their parents about conservation."

Wyland's mural will be his first in Utah. "We think this will be great for the Olympics; it will set the city apart," said Bill Child, president and CEO of R.C. Willey Home Furnishings.

Eyeing the side of the building, Wyland decided to demonstrate his talent. "I can't stand a blank wall," he said. Donning paint-covered sneakers, Wyland started mixing blue paint. With a roller brush in hand, Wyland and R.C. Willey executives stepped aboard a lift, gliding up the wall. A few blue strokes soon became the outline of a whale, a friendly eye peeking out over the parking lot.

On Monday, Ocean Challenge will also have a truck decorated to simulate the ocean. "There will be sand on the floor, ocean sounds, and fish hanging from the walls," said Colleen Read, executive director of the foundation. The whole idea is to get kids from the desert excited about the ocean.