As we grow older, we forget the carefree nature we had as children. Work and life get in the way, but sometimes, if we are lucky, certain moments will bring out that inner child again. For me, it always happens while I am traveling; suddenly, I am free and my whole perspective on life changes.
That was exactly how things were during my recent visit to the Adirondacks and Northern New York. There’s so much to see and do, especially in the great outdoors, but there are two places I found that really brought out that inner child: The Wild Center and the Adirondack Museum. Both pay homage to the region, one through nature and wildlife and the other through the human impact and development of the area over the years; both are worth a visit.
Sitting on 81-acres of forest and riverfront, The Wild Center was the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified museum in New York state. Here, nature and people can coexist and the setting is simply stunning. Not only do visitors get an appreciation for the natural surroundings, but they are also inspired to conserve and make sure this beauty can be seen for generations to come.
Home to over 900 live animals, including four otters, the museum aims to inform visitors of the wildlife who live in the region, and they do so in a way that makes learning fun. There are tanks full of animals, colorful displays and explanations, and an area for kids to paint and get crafty. Right away, you realize that this isn’t your typical museum.
But, inside is just the beginning, because the real fun happens on the Wild Walk, an elevated path with more than 1,000 feet of bridges and platforms through the forest. The Wild Walk offers a different perspective than that offered by the trails, allowing visitors to experience the forest in an entirely new way: from the tops of the trees.
Full of forest related fun facts and activities, visitors learn a lot while walking around, but none of it feels like learning, at least not in the traditional sense. Visitors get to experience what life is actually like for those who call the forest home.
To start, there’s a life-size board game where visitors pretend to be a bird that either chooses to stay or migrate during the winter. From there, one follows along the path to see if they survive, and we learned that there’s a 50% chance of surviving. There’s no sugar coating it for the kids, which I think is an important lesson, as nature and life aren’t always fair.
There’s also a giant spider web to play on, and I am glad that Jayme convinced me to go on and play with her. Hanging 24 feet off the ground, with a large spider lurking nearby, it’s a great place for kids to jump and run around. I can’t say we were too successful, but luckily we captured the moment and Jayme tweeted it out for the world to see. We may not be quite as graceful as spiders, but we still had just as much fun as the kids who were running around next to us.
— Jayme Lamm (@jaymelamm) August 12, 2015
Here, we got a different kind of bird’s eye view of the forest that surrounded us. We were able to see above most of the trees and had views of many of the surrounding mountains.
From there, we went back down to earth, heading for the replica of a snag, which is a dead tree stump. We crossed the swinging bridges and headed inside to explore the uses of a snag in the wilderness, as it becomes the home of many different animals. It’s interesting to see how nature uses all resources, even after they’ve died, and the snag brings that to life for visitors.
There was a lot to see, but also several places to stop along the way and soak it all in. As someone who hikes a lot, it was interesting to see the woods from this perspective, which was much different than the dense forest I normally look at while trekking along. This gave me a whole new appreciation for the time I have spent in the woods.
After leaving the Wild Walk, something even a big kid may have a hard time doing, there’s a natural playground where kids are encouraged to climb, build, and get dirty.
I love that The Wild Center encourages hands-on activities, and it was wonderful to see so many kids getting their hands dirty and building. There’s also a lean-to by the play area, and having just been on the trail, I felt a sudden urge to get back inside under shelter, grateful I would be spending the night in the comfort of my hotel, rather than in the lean-to.
Leaving The Wild Center and Wild Walk was hard, as there was still so much to see and do. But, it’s definitely a place I will return to in the future, especially because it brought out the kid in me.
Sitting in front of the Adirondack Museum is a massive chair, which is the first hint that this place isn’t just about learning. Where The Wild Center focuses on natural life, the Adirondack Museum focuses on the humans who have made the Adirondacks their home throughout the years. Covering 32-acres and overlooking Blue Mountain Lake, there are displays and exhibitions that will delight any adult and kid.
We started our tour in the boating room, where we learned about the different boats that have been in the Adirondacks. Here, we also were able to watch an Adirondack guide boat being built by the boat builder in residence. There was also a child-size boat that I had to jump into, as well as boating books and puzzles nearby for kids.
From there, we headed to my favorite spot, the cabin, which was complete with an outhouse. Visitors can play with the dolls inside, sweep the floors, pretend to make dinner and a fire, and can even do laundry outside; tedious tasks are suddenly fun when put in this context.
Vicky and I had our fun playing house, before heading to the nearby one-room schoolhouse. Outside, visitors can play a few old-fashioned games, though no one in our group seemed to be very good at them.
So we gave up and headed to the pond, where there are boat rides, an Adirondack lean-to, and a platform tent for kids to explore. There’s also a porter engine to play on, although we didn’t have time to.
While we were there, there were Mountain Men setting up and demonstrating their survival skills. This is something the kids would love, and I had to give my survival skills a chance. As you can see, even the Mountain Man doesn’t believe I have a chance.
Each year, the Mountain Men return to the museum, set up camp and demonstrate musket shooting, fire starting, campfire cooking, and more. They help visitors discover what life in the wilderness was like in the 1820’s to 1840’s.
Again, learning here doesn’t feel like traditional learning, it’s fun, hands-on, and interactive, which is what kids need to retain information. Even adults want to get in on the action.
On our way out, I just had to sit on the huge Adirondack chair that was on display. It felt fitting, especially because I got to feel as small as I once did as a kid. This is another place that I plan on returning to again in the future, there’s still so much I’d love to see and explore.
A visit to both the Wild Center and Adirondack Museum is a must while in the Adirondack region of New York. Not only is there a lot to learn, but there’s so much fun to be had, that it shouldn’t be missed. Not only will kids love it, but adults are guaranteed to remember what it was like to be a kid again.
A special thank you to the team at ROOST for having me on the #EatPlayLoveNY trip throughout Northern New York. As always, all opinions are my own.