“Mommy, you gotta see this!” This line could become a reoccurring one for families visiting Fernbank’s latest permanent exhibit, NatureQuest. Fernbank’s $8 million-dollar baby is slated to open to the public today. Here is sneak peak into this almost 7,000 square feet of space, five years in the making.
One of the first things that I noticed upon entering this interactive area was that my kids were gone! Yes, lost inside NatureQuest’s six ecosystems including: ocean/estuary, swamp, pine flatwoods, forest, waterfall/river, and caves. No worries, because they were quick to find me and share their discoveries.
A River Runs Through It
Perhaps the most unique of NatureQuest’s 100 interactive designs is a river that is filled with fish that stir and swim away as if you were wading in there with them! Thanks to the magic of technology and sensors, you will not get wet or have to bring a change of clothes for the kiddos. Located in the swamp section, a real-live American alligator peers back at us through the glass. In the background, outdoor sounds change for each ecosystem, and make each area more alive.
Life’s a Reef
In the ocean/estuary large mobiles of brightly colored fish swim and circle over your head, powered by little hands and small motors. Large columns covered in removable starfish and coral help solve the underwater ecosystem puzzle. Throughout this section there are many tools that provide hands-on learning including a joystick game that identifies sea life and navigates you through the sandy bottom of the ocean.
The clubhouse was a popular spot for my kids, well and me. I earned every bruise and sore knee from climbing in and out of this area. While inside, my three year-old daughter was quick to point out the model skunk under plexiglass-another inconspicuous learning tool that this museum has incorporated so well into its design.
This area is literally bridged by a large man-made tree where children can climb through the woody perennial for a birds eye view. Exploration cards provide clues and tips on how to learn more about our environment in a kid-friendly way. Outside of the clubhouse are night vision binoculars that illuminate nocturnal foliage and the many animals that come to life after dark.
Behind the tree a mysterious waterfall doubles as the perfect entrance to one of the many real-live animals throughout the exhibit-the salamanders! Inside the waterfall/river section you can go on your own spelunking adventure through a cave, where kids can learn about the difference between stalagmites and stalactites.
Can you Dig It?
One element to this exhibit is the exposure to unique areas of science and interest that otherwise would not be available in most traditional children’s museums. In the archaeology dig section, kids can search for fossils or piece together ancient artifacts on their own expedition. For my six year-old son, this was heaven.
After spending just under an hour at NatureQuest, I had to literally drag my children kicking and screaming from the exhibit (ask the staff). That being said, I would not only highly recommend NatureQuest for kids as young as two, but to avoid an ugly scene would devote at least an hour and a half of time to this exhibit.
Hours: Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; Sun 12n-5pm
Cost: Adults $17.50; Students (13-18) & Seniors $16.50; Children (3-12) $15.50; Children (2 and under) free. Admission is free for members.
Ages: 2 And Up