May 16, 2014

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Museum of Natural Curiosity Opens its Doors

By Heather Stewart

May 16, 2014

“Let’s get this party started!” said Mike Washburn, president and CEO of Thanksgiving Point. Cheers erupted from the crowd, which had gathered for the grand opening of the Museum of Natural Curiosity on Thursday.

The $28.5 million museum encompasses five exhibit areas with more than 400 interactive exhibits. One of the exhibit areas is the five-acre Discovery Garden, making the museum the first in the state to incorporate indoor and outdoor features.

The Museum of Natural Curiosity has been on the drawing board for several years. Washburn said funds were allocated from the state of Utah, Utah County and the city of Lehi, but the bulk of the funding came from several foundations and private donors who stepped up to make the museum a reality.

Many of the speakers at the ribbon cutting noted the museum would help inspire children to embrace learning and discover a love of science, arts and culture.

Gov. Gary R. Herbert said the museum will “foster a new generation of learners, of entrepreneurial individuals.”

Tom Dickson, founder of Blendtec, said the manufacturing industry is in dire need of technicians and engineers. “This is the foundation of how we can come up with these innovative young people who can use their hands,” he said.

The museum’s educational component was named the Dickson Academy in honor of Dickson. “This museum embodies Tom’s philosophy of learning,” said Washburn.

Throughout the ribbon-cutting ceremony, antsy children wiggled and danced at the edge of the crowd, waiting for the chance to run through the museum’s big glass doors. Once inside, they quickly dispersed into the five exhibit areas.

The Kidopolis exhibit is a tiny town with a health clinic, a vet, a theater, a bank, a dance studio, a library, an art studio and more. Children quickly got to work staging puppet shows, experimenting with stop-motion animation and learning the intricacies of making a bank deposit.

The Innovation Gallery—which will be home to traveling exhibits—had an exhibit on construction. A group of boys were absorbed in making parachutes out of coffee filters and experimenting with wind drag, while two men worked feverishly to build walls out of large foam blocks—although a group of enthusiastic girls soon took over the project.

In the Water Works exhibit, children donned rain boots and plastic aprons to begin building waterways. The exhibit also has tornado and hurricane exhibits, letting participants feel what it is like to stand in the middle of a wind tunnel.

In the Rainforest, a boy held tightly to a rope with his hands and feet to see if he could hang as long as a sloth. Other children attempted to leap like a frog, flap their arms as fast as hummingbird wings or squeeze as tight as a boa. The Rainforest also has a 45-foot-tall monkey head, a wooden airplane, and ancient ruins and chambers.

With an outdoor playground, an amphitheater and nature classrooms, the Discovery Gardens helps children learn about nature and six simple machines in the Archimedes playground.

Thanksgiving Point was created by Alan and Karen Ashton, and when the organization began planning the Museum of Natural Curiosity, Karen said that above all, it should be fun, said Washburn. “I think we’ve accomplished that,” he said.

Herbert agreed, saying, “It’s for children of all ages … including my age.”

FFKR Architects was the project architect for the Museum of Natural Curiosity. “FFKR did a great job developing a building that creates instant curiosity,” said Washburn.

Okland Construction was the general contractor for the museum, and Ohio-based Roto Group was the exhibits designer.

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