MOR Children’s Discovery Center

Julia Daigle

On July 1st of this year The Museum of the Rockies premiered a new permanent exhibit, The Children’s Discovery Center. Inspiring visitors to explore the rich, natural, and cultural history of America’s Northern Rocky Mountains has always been a part of the Museum’s mission, and the new Discovery Center builds upon this mission. Gearing itself toward a much younger audience the Discovery Center incorporates an interactive model of Yellowstone Park, called Explore Yellowstone. Jean Conover, Marketing Director of the museum, states that the idea is to “educate a younger audience about the science of Yellowstone Park in a way that they can interact with and understand.”
Designed for children up to 8 years old, this new exhibit introduces children to the many activities that Yellowstone Park has to offer in hopes that families will encourage their kids to actually visit the park.

Located on the third floor of the museum, the CDC showcases beautifully made landscape scenes from Yellowstone Park. Through the Roosevelt Arch, you’ll immediately find an immense makeshift buffalo, comprised of all sorts of unique objects such as buttons, bells, and straps. Throughout the Center, there are animals of all types built in this unique recycled fashion. Their unique style uses found objects to create a variety of life size animals, spurring the children’s imagination. The creatures are designed in such a way so that younger children wouldn’t be confused about approaching real animals due to what they had discovered at the Center. The hope is that the kids will be able to differentiate between real animals and life-size toy animals due to the extreme design difference.
Continuing through the exhibit, kid size Yellowstone features are displayed in designated areas. Surrounding each area are amazingly crafted murals, showcasing the appropriate backdrop to that particular feature. The first feature, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, is a foam playground meant for toddlers, ages 0-2. Toddlers can roll and play around on a soft foam pad with a beautiful Grand Canyon backdrop.

There is a campground area, with actual tents set up so that children can completely immerse themselves into a make believe campground setting. Throughout the entire room, there are also little smell tubes that carry scents that are associated with each feature. For the campground, you’ll find a musty campfire scent as well as display cards expressing the importance of fire safety.

During my visit a lot of children were bustling with activity at the next feature, a Fishing Bridge. With a Yellowstone River mural creating a majestic background, kids can pretend to fish! There is an area next to the river where kids can fill out a fishing license, pick out a pole, learn about invasive fish, and measure their fish to see if they are regulation size. Miniature toy fish are spread out below the bridge in the blue carpeted water, with tiny magnets at the tips of their mouths. Kids can cast their lines in and hook a fish as it is drawn to the magnet at the end of their fishing pole. This seemed to be a real hot spot for the kids, who really enjoyed the whole process of attaining a license and catching fish.
Cross the bridge and enter the lodge, here you will find all the associated amenities of a Yellowstone lodge, miniaturized. Kids can pretend to cook on a stove while wearing a chef’s hat and then serve plates to their ‘guests’ on the wooden lodge table. Other costumes include a forest ranger hat and vest and construction worker gear all adding to the Yellowstone experience. Historical objects can be found in a cabinet within the lodge, a hidden surprise for the intent explorer.

Next to the lodge is Old Faithful. The kid in me liked this feature the best. In the middle of the Center are two makeshift geysers, representing Old Faithful. Every half an hour, one of the two will shoot up and cause everyone to come over to see what the excitement is all about.   A kid operated pressure geyser where children can actually pump air into a geyser and cause it to shoot up is another exciting feature. This is a little like a Yellowstone Jack in the Box, and the kids seem to love being in control of the geyser.

A little farther down is a beautifully crafted scene that incorporates Mammoth Hot Springs, complete with the bright colors, mudpots, and Hot Springs. This feature helps to teach the concepts of thermal features and a “smell tube” is available to give a whiff of hydrogen sulfide.

Overlooking the entire Yellowstone Park is a lookout tower, complete with binoculars and even an eagle’s nest. A slight incline allows kids to enter the tower and feel like they are at the top of the world.
With every feature displayed in the Children’s Discovery Center factual cards are displayed. These cards talk about the history of the feature, along with safety information that is interesting and informative for kids and thier parents. Staff members are available as well, to monitor the children and answer any questions that may arise.

The community, staff members, and the local artists must all be so proud of what they have accomplished. The generosity of the people involved has given our youngster’s not only an exciting new playground, but also a place where they can really immerse themselves in the educational process of enjoying and taking care of Yellowstone National Park.

For more information, contact Jean Conover at (406) 994-2652 or visit the Museum of the Rockies and discover for yourself the wonders for YNP.