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Museum of Life and Science announces major expansion

Posted February 25, 2014

Courtesy: Museum of Life and Science

The Museum of Life and Science in Durham Tuesday announced ambitious plans for a $3.9 million dollar project to build two new outdoor learning areas on the museum's sprawling campus.

Plans call for a two-acre nature-based playscape, called Hideaway Woods, to open in summer 2015. Earth Moves, an interactive approach to Earth sciences, is scheduled to open in 2016.

"We are creating a one-of-a-kind place that encourages children's playful exploration of nature, physical activity, and keeps alive a child's sense of wonder," said President and CEO Barry Van Deman in a press release. "We believe children and their parents should have a safe, natural, and wonder-filled place to come where they are free to explore, climb, crawl and use their imaginations."

The announcement comes about two years after the museum opened the wildly popular Into the Mist exhibit, which turns natural elements into play pieces. The exhibit features classic kid favorites - water, sand, running and climbing - to teach kids about water, wind and topography. Here they can run through tall grasses; pop out of kid-sized gopher hole; and watch how water moves sand piles or changes direction with the wind.

Natural play areas are growing in popularity across the country and the Triangle. Local parks, including White Deer Park in Garner, Kids Together Park in Cary, Prairie Ridge Ecostation in Raleigh, the N.C. Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill and the Annie Louise Wilkerson MD Nature Preserve in Raleigh, are among those offering natural play elements.

And two businesses have popped up in the past couple of years, offering outdoor play experiences. Three Bear Acres is in northern Wake County. Go Play Outside Now is in Garner.

The new plans for the Museum of Life and Science call for everything from tree house villages to a massive digger pit with full-size excavators that are safe for kids to operate and a waterfall.

Here are descriptions of the two new features, courtesy of this morning's press release: 

Hideaway Woods

"Opening in summer 2015, this two-acre nature-based playscape will be located in the wooded area, encircled by the Museum's Ellerbe Creek Railway tracks and will feature outdoor experiences designed to encourage movement, exploration and skill development.

Highlights include: Tree house villages suspended 15 to 20 feet off the ground. Children will climb high among the trees, crisscross between tree houses on suspended bridges, and see nature from a different point of view; an additional set of structures six to eight feet off the ground and a playscape of ramps, elevated platforms and swinging bridges will be available for younger explorers or others choosing to stay closer to the ground.

Living twig and sapling structures designed by artist Patrick Dougherty for hands-on imaginative play. These amazing sculptures invite exploration and rousing games of hide-and-seek. The main body of this area will be designed over a mulch base that is playground approved and ADA compliant so children of all ages and abilities can enjoy the space.

Play space dedicated to the museum's youngest visitors - those 18 months to age five - with activities ranging from building exercises to low log steppers for climbing. Designed to be increasingly challenging, this space encourages children to practice and improve over the course of a single or multiple visits."

Earth Moves

"Opening in 2016, this new experience will immerse visitors in Earth sciences where visitors experience how the Earth moves by natural forces and human interaction. This new experience will be located across from the Into the Mist exhibit in the Catch the Wind area of the museum's outdoor campus.

Highlights include: Large scale digger pit with full size excavators, modified for safe operation by families and children. Visitors are invited to take control of and experience the physics of moving massive amounts of earth with simple machines.

Earthquake platform that challenges visitors to build structures that can survive simulated seismic activity; foam blocks will be available to create "buildings" on a platform which visitors can trigger to activate movement. Guests will also be able to stand on the platform to experience what a tremor might feel like while controlling their quake's intensity and degree of magnitude.

Free-standing waterfall which will showcase the physical properties of water and provide insight into how groundwater flows into an aquifer. In addition to learning about water's movement and force, the waterfall will be the perfect place for visitors to cool off during hot summer days."

So far, Durham County commissioners have approved a lead gift of $500,000 toward the fundraising campaign. The museum's board of directors have promised 10 percent of the total with several gifts of $100,000 or more. 

This is a very exciting announcement and I can't wait to follow the progress and share it here on Go Ask Mom. For more about the plans, check the museum's website.


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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Feb 27, 2014

    03ARABIAN2, what would get you to change your mind about Durham?...because clearly a story about how Durham values high cognitive function, doesn’t make a dent in your tirade. You also seem to the ignore one of the best hospitals on the planet...and a broadway venue that’s in the top two in the country in ticket sales...or the nicest shopping mall for hundreds of miles... or the fantastic variety and quality of restuarants...that RTP has the highest concentrations of phDs on the planet...

    No, just keep your dark sunglasses on, so you won’t accidentally see any of these wonderful things about Durham.

  • jmc3 Feb 26, 2014

    03arabian2....The tragic incident you speak of was nowhere near the museum. Regardless of the location, it amazes me that someone can take a feel good story about a museum expansion and turn it into a tirade about Durham. I'm betting that you have never been to Durham or certainly have never been a victim of crime while in Durham. You just perpetuate the same old myths that you've been told by the media. You need to put this story behind you and find other ways to vent your anger. Perhaps professional help is in order. In the meantime, please continue to avoid our beautiful city.

  • 03arabian2 Feb 26, 2014

    Still think its super safe in Durham for this ? A 60yr old woman stabbed to death and a 4 yr old with her seriously injured last night. This was within a few miles of MOLAS. Yet another reason to stay away from the area.

  • 03arabian2 Feb 25, 2014

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    I don't live in Stepford..err I mean Cary and never have. Its just a better area for something like this than Durham

  • Keri Kennedy Feb 25, 2014
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    I really hope they take into account accessibility features for children in wheelchairs. (hint hint)

  • Jamie France Feb 25, 2014
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    yes, because going anywhere with 8 or 9 people us usually so much cheaper at other places...

  • sykesrae7 Feb 25, 2014

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    the train tracks will go around this exhibit when it is done.

  • busyb97 Feb 25, 2014

    Getting to this museum from outside the triangle is easy- I-85 almost runs right past it, so you aren't going through any of the neighborhoods that give Durham the stigma of being a bad place. You just take Duke St and follow the signs- driving through very nice neighborhoods.
    For my 2 kids and I, it would cost $38 (one is over 12yrs now), but I couldn't take them to the movies for that price these days unless I go to Blue Ridge (further drive for us), or even out to lunch. We can easily spend all day at the museum.

    I just wish they'd put some nice attractions along the train route. Why pay the money to ride the train and see nothing? Seems silly to me.

  • cdurham Feb 25, 2014

    To 03arabian2--Regarding the dinosaur head. A high-schooler damaged the brontosaurus on an "abandoned" trail. Its not been a museum exhibit for at least 20 years. This is on the opposite side of the street from the active part of the museum. The good news is Durham residents rallied and raised $20K to have the bronto restored. There are alot of fond memories of this old exhibit. People using the public Parks and Rec trail can see him as they pass.

  • Jim Frei Feb 25, 2014
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    When I was a kid, most of the fun was building our own tree houses & forts, hanging rope swings over the creek, and digging bike trails through the woods. Why must everything be so structured for kids these days?