Wild Center: The Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks

On a recent trip to the Adirondacks, Co-Editor Jesse, myself, and friend and Sagamore Tour Supervisior Maria took a drive to Tupper Lake to visit The Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks (it's short name is The Wild Center) which opened July 4th weekend.

Compared to other Adirondack communities, Tupper Lake is not so touristy; born from the lumber industry, it has a decidedly different feel to it than Saranac Lake or Old Forge. Interestingly, the Wild Center builds over a piece of Tupper Lake's industrial past. The museum site is a repurposed abandoned gravel pit, the lake that abuts the museum is artificial.

A museum in the Adirondacks compiling all the natural wonders of the Adirondacks in a one-stop, climate controled building seemed, upon first contemplation, a little bit odd. (The thinking was: just go outside and look around!) But The Wild Center is clearly a well thought out, deliberate endeavor, and when we visited it became clear that it allowed an access to environments that many people rarely experience. Many of the museum's patrons were small children and the elderly, people who wouldn't otherwise be able to experience the windswept summit of a high peak or the diversity of life inside a bog. With a plethora of informational signs (in a somewhat gimmicky post-it note format) The Wild Center proves to be an excellent compliment to spending time in the woods for those who are able as well.

Another questions coming in was how this shiny new museum would stack up against, and perhaps rival, The Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. The Adirondack Museum, which has been called "The Smithsonian of the Adirondacks" deals primarily with the colorful human history of the park, and we were glad to see very little overlap between the two institutions.

The Wild Center as a museum is the antithesis of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, that time-honored nineteenth century institution cataloguing the history of life on all continents. Memorable to most for exhibits such as the Hall of African Mammals, where taxidermied specimens are displayed in elaborate and brilliantly painted facsimiles of their native environments, The Wild Center takes a different approach, displaying live animals in versions of their habitats, and keeping animal bones, skins, and other objects of curiosity (including owl droppings) in a lab-like setting, a room called the Naturalist's Cabinet.

The rest of the Wild Center functions more like a living, breathing thing. The focus of most of the Museum is on water and water habitats, and a "river", like an uber-fish tank, extends along the wall, a new home for a variety of fish. There is also a special tank devoted to trout, which Jesse is pictured with above (he has a serious look on his face, but he was having fun. Trust me. Most of the museum interiors are very difficult to photograph) The most popular attraction was the otter, who comes out to play at specific times by an indoor waterfall. Besides these living creatures, visitors are encouraged to touch just about everything, exploring the sights, sounds, textures, and even smells of the Adirondacks in slick, high tech displays.

The displays could easily lecture excessively or make dire environmental threat the overriding theme. But they seek to inspire a love of the ecosystems, and are not without their humor. My favorite element of the display was a plastic hemisphere of a human brain places next to one of a trout brain, pointing out that humans have written thousands of books and spend a lot of time and money determining how to catch fish. My only qualm was with the video that runs on the half hour in the museum theater. I was expecting it to be educational, or to at least have words. But it was roughly 20 minutes of panning in and out on still photographs to a rousing soundtrack (think "Chariots of Fire") and while the photographs were beautiful, it was a tad too long and didn't seem like the best use of resources.

While The Wild Center is up and running, many elements are still under construction: paths through the grounds are not yet open, landscaping of the building is in its early stages, and a section of the museums interior devoted to temporary exhibits will not open for another year at least. But there is plenty to see and do at this new museum, and if only to satisfy your curiosity, it is definitely worth a visit.

The Wild Center is open 7 days a week through Columbus Day, and open on weekends during the winter. More information is available at the website, wildcenter.org.

Other stories about the Wild Center can be found at Adirondack Life Magazine and The New York Times.

Posted by Natalie

Note: The exterior photo of the building used above is from the New York Times article.


Jocomo said...

Good story, but I cringe.

Hari Krish said...

Yo, forget that nonsense grammar talk, she used 'abuts' so she's above you.

todd said...

I toured the site when it was under construction and again now that it is open, and I heartily endorse a visit by anyone with even a passing interest in nature/Adirondack environments.

verplanck colvin said...

Yep. It's a wonder. I was there for opening day, paddled on its little pond (via a tippy single-seat canoe by Raquette River Outfitters), walked the path down to the Raquette, and took a quick spin around the interior.

The aquatic exhibits were the most interesting, IMO, since you never really get a chance to see a cross-sectional view of a stream or lake.

David A said...

We recently visited The Wild Center in the Town of Tupper Lake and were mostly disappointed. The inside displays were interesting and educational, however we had an extremely unpleasant experience with the restaurant manager. When I complained that are salads were poorly prepared and overpriced he said " I work my ass off in this place", well good for you, however that did not solve our problem, he went on and on with a typical NYC attitude. We than went on the trail walk to "nowhere". A mostly second generation wood lot, with dead and rotting trees on both sides of the "trail" which was about 1/2 mile long one way. My 11 and 12 year old son and daughter were bored out of their wits. We found little help from the employees regarding points of interest, the desk staff were not informative and unprofessional. Again, we all somewhat enjoyed the inside displays which only took 15 minutes or less to walk through. I understand that this center is a work in progress, however $32.00 gate fee plus $25.00 for 3 soft drinks and 3 "box lunch type salads was way over priced for our dollar. We live in Lake Placid where the landscape and wildlife is free for everyone to enjoy. We would not go back until there are radical improvements.