On a recent family vacation to the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York I had the opportunity to visit the renowned W!ld Center in Tupper Lake (http://www.wildcenter.org/). As a nature center director and parent of two young children, I was interested in seeing the center for a multitude of reasons. Professionally, I wanted to take stock of things like membership fees, donor recognition, exhibit space, and other facility and programmatic aspects of the center. Personally, I wanted to engage my children with the natural history, flora, and fauna of the Adirondacks where some of our family has spent summer vacations for the last six generations. I was impressed on both fronts to say the least.
While the admission was not inexpensive, it clearly goes to producing an exceptional experience for the visitors. We were particularly impressed by the river otter, brook trout, lake trout/sturgeon, and waterfowl/warm water fish tanks. Not only could you see below the surface, but they also had interesting information and displays above and around the various water features.
In their hands-on activity room, my children were able to engage physically with everything from animal skulls to nature themed puzzles and games. All of the items were well organized and neatly stored in bins or on shelves. More delicate items including taxidermy and microscopes were out of the way of the youngest visitors yet accessible visually or with assistance from the ubiquitous volunteers. When I asked one of the volunteers about some of the exhibits and activities, she was more than willing to respond and even provide further insight into the center.
With the limited attention spans of my toddlers dictating our time in the exhibit areas, we decided to move onto the cafe for a delicious lunch overlooking the beautiful outdoor water feature. This pond which comes right up to the center and is elevated to provide a turtle’s eye view is awesome. While eating our sandwiches made on tasty artisan bread, bluegills, turtles, and even a large rainbow trout swam by to keep my children excited about their visit.
Once we had finished lunch, our attention turned to their well stocked and attractive retail space; fortunately we had a grandparent along to buy my son a mineral rock experiment kit to encourage my budding geologist and my daughter a flashlight to help facilitate her nocturnal nature explorations (thank you, Nano!).
Finally, we took a stroll outside along their boardwalk and into the forest where we found “The Pines.” I was thrilled to see an outdoor space specifically designed for children to be creatively engaged with nature. There were sticks with which to build, hollow logs to explore, and teepees made of tree branches just to name a few of the features. It reminded me a bit of our Outdoor Classroom here at Irvine crossed with a dream from Sarah Olmsted (see my post on books about children and nature). It proved difficult to get my children to leave when the time came!
In all, we had a tremendous visit to the W!ld Center and would strongly encourage others with or without children to visit if in the area. I certainly will make the trip to visit again, perhaps taking advantage of the theater and its current film on Monarch butterflies.