When Times are Tough, the Tough Get Creative:
A Natural Areas Visitors Center in a Museum
By Zoë Whyman
Community Relations Manager
Fort Collins Natural Areas Department
The Fort Collins, Colorado Natural Areas Department dreamed of having a visitor’s center for years. The city government agency manages 43 natural area sites and over 35,000 acres locally and regionally. They needed a place to share information and inspire stewardship. There was never the right spot, the money, or the time to plan it all. Besides, they wondered would people really make a visitors center a destination? How many people would they serve?
You might have heard the phrase, “when times are tough, the tough get creative”? That describes the innovative partnership opportunity the new Fort Collins Museum of Discovery presented. It is an institution dedicated to science and history that came from a public/private partnership of two former museums. A natural areas visitors center was a great fit to incorporate into the Museum of Discovery’s new building because not only would it attract non-typical visitors (museum goers might not be the same as natural area visitors), but the Natural Areas Department could be part of a new building, utilize the museum staff’s expertise, and leverage the economies of scale in the museum’s construction process.
The completed exhibit features lots of natural light (making it a challenge to photograph!)
The partnership between the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery and the Fort Collins Natural Areas Department has been outstanding. The new visitors center within the museum features a shortgrass prairie diorama, complete with live black-footed ferrets, an interactive map, a video piece, brochure racks and a reflective seating area. The exhibits were planned collaboratively with Natural Areas staff contributing most of the research and writing. Museum staff and Gyroscope (exhibit design) were crucial in designing the exhibits, ferret enclosures and managing the project. You can see the results; the new museum opened November 10 and has received a great reception from the public. And remember when faced with challenges like the right location, funding, and planning time, a creative solution like a partnership might be worth considering! It’s worked out great in Fort Collins, Colorado.
A brochure holder and interactive map provide visitors with useful information about how to explore the natural areas on their own.