WildWood’s Adventure Outpost teaches tweens in the treetops.
WildWood’s Adventure Outpost teaches tweens in the treetops.

By Grace Huseth

The Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Druid Hills is expanding to the great outdoors this fall. The museum is completing two outdoor projects in the next month, one that will feature all-new environments and activities for Fernbank’s museum and another to reopen the Fernbank Forest.

Brandi Berry, Fernbank’s vice president of marketing and communications, said nearly 10 acres behind the museum have been transformed into a nature adventure called WildWoods complete with treetop views, an educational pavilion, and hands-on activities for children.

“Creating natural, outdoor experiences reignites the central, original mission of Fernbank to preserve Fernbank Forest as a living classroom,” Berry said. “The education and exhibition department at Fernbank dreamed of an outdoor area that would inspire guests to keep learning.”

Stepping off the museum’s terrace, WildWoods starts with the Montgomery Highline Trace that has a dramatic vantage point from 50 feet in the treetops. The high boardwalk features two tree pods in the shape of tulip poplar and a fern that open up for visitors to see different vantage points of the woodlands. There are view-scopes along the boardwalk, some with a view from a predator – such as a hawk – and some from a prey – such as a deer – as well as a compound view like that of an insect.

The trail winds to a play area called Nature Stories where children 8 and under can interact with unique exhibit sensory stations. The first station is hands-on water cycle activity leading from a waterfall. A looping creek bed encourages kids to explore the cause and effects of manipulating water, such as building a dam or creating an eddy. The largest exhibit is a playground designed to look like part of the forest, with custom made trees, native Georgia lichen, mushrooms and hidden woodland critters.

“All activities correlate with the science standards that children are learning in school. While discoveries in nature are often unpredictable, Fernbank has incorporated exciting discoveries so that the exhibit is always stocked with educational finds,” Berry said.

A realistic tree snag offers more hours of play at Fernbank Museum of Natural History.

WildWoods leads on to elevated platforms and nets in a high ropes experience called Adventure Outpost. Here older children can learn in the treetops, tiptoeing through suspended rope walks, and ascending floating discs inspired by leaves to reach an interactive weather station. More activities will take place at the Kendeda Education Pavillion with specialist-led programs.

The boardwalk splits to allow access into the Isdell Wildlife Sanctuary, a restored wetland that highlights the role Piedmont forest plays in the water cycle for Georgia. Interpretive rangers will help guests find signs of native wildlife including blue herons, a river otter family and a busy beaver clan.

The other direction of the pathway in WildWoods leads directly to Fernbank Forest. This pristine forest is different from the woodland area, showcasing trees more than 300 years old, rare plants, native flowers, and dramatic views of one of the largest old-growth Piedmont forests in a major American city.

Over the past few years, volunteers and scientists have removed about 50 acres of non-native species to preserve the authentic Atlanta forest along the nature trails that will be reopened to the public.

“We are fortunate to have this living laboratory that allows us to connect the museum to the natural world in a way that most other natural history museums cannot,” Berry said. “This outdoor expansion builds upon the central, original mission of Fernbank. We hope increased access to Fernbank Forest, coupled with educational adventures in WildWoods, will inspire a closeness to and appreciation of nature.”

For more information, visit fernbankmuseum.org.

 

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.