Original Story on WABE by Maria Saporta – (Audio file not available)
The Fernbank Museum of Natural History opened in October 1992 as a place where people could learn about their natural environment. On Sept. 24, the museum opened its doors with a $21.7 million expansion spotlighting the natural environment outside of the building.
The Fernbank Museum has always been located on precious land – next to the largest old-growth Piedmont forest in the Southeast.
Now visitors will be able to embrace the natural wonders of Fernbank by experiencing and learning from nature outside the museum’s walls.
Thanks to a successful fundraising campaign, Fernbank’s leaders have been restoring the forest by removing non-native plants and opening up vistas where visitors can experience nature during all four seasons.
Fernbank Inc. was founded by Emily Harrison in 1939 to preserve the historic forest. Her original vision was to create a school in the woods where people could learn about nature first-hand.
Finally that original vision is being realized. The expansion includes 10 acres of woodland adventures. There is also a trio of play areas for young children and the Isdell Wildlife Sanctuary. There’s the Kendeda Pavilion and Adventure Outpost. There are insect hotels and a sensory wall. And there are two wooden pods where people can contemplate life while looking at the forest and the restored creek meadow.
Trails lead to the 65-acre old-growth forest where people can see wild birds, otters, butterflies and hundreds of plants and trees.
The forest was named Fernbank because it once had 21 different species of ferns on the property. Today, there are about a dozen remaining. Some hope the forest restoration will lead to the return of the missing ferns.
The expansion also includes the building of several walkways with ADA access to different parts of the woodlands.
And for those who prefer watching movies, the IMAX Theater will be updated with all new laser and digital components.
Either way, Fernbank is fulfilling its mission as a school in the woods.