Discovering the Discovery Museum

In one room, children power a “Biggest Little City” sign utilizing miniature solar panels and light. A few galleries over, kids pen cowboy poetry, while in yet another space, little artists paint a large glass window. This is Reno’s Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum and it opened this past fall to a receptive crowd.

Local resident Chris Riche conceived the museum and financed a feasibility study in 2004. Upon finding that the region could support a children’s museum, he began raising funds and created a board. The idea was wildly successful, as evidenced by early numbers: The museum opened in September and had exceeded its membership goals for the year by October, says marketing manager Patrick Turner.

“Everything’s been super positive,” Turner says. “We’re booked solid for field trips. On an average week, we serve about 3,000 people.”

Sparks resident Trina Buan visited the museum with her three-year-old and two-year-old. “We love it here,” she says. “It’s nice to have a place in town where kids can come and touch everything and not get in trouble.”

“We’ve had a blast,” agrees San Diego resident Brandon Spegal, who was in town visiting family. “My daughters loved every minute of this.”

Originally designed for ages birth through 12, plenty of older kids and adults can be found enjoying the museum’s many exhibits. Most outings last three to four hours. A staff of about 30 full-and-part-timers, as well as 100 volunteers, many working as MEGs (“Museum Experience Guides”), helps groups make the most of each visit.

The museum is a collection of galleries and activities that all tie in some way to Nevada. The Little Discoveries gallery is for children up to five years old and includes an interactive mining display (the “Kidstock Lode”), complete with mining car, foam rocks and a lifter. Under the Stars allows young naturalists to explore a cave, practice fishing with magnets and learn how to camp in the wilderness. The Build It! room uses interactive exhibits to teach about solar, wind, geothermal and human-powered energy, displays eco-friendly building materials and allows users to design a green home. Da Vinci’s Corner focuses on hands-on experiments in refracting light, helicopters, catapults and art, while Nevada Stories is the museum’s largest gallery and is dedicated to the region’s history—from pioneers and the Washoe to gold mining and gaming.

“The Cloud Climber is by far the most popular,” says Turner, gesturing to the nearly three-story-high jungle gym that a dozen children are climbing, and which teaches about the water cycle. Behind that, he says, kids love splashing in Truckee Connects, an 80-foot-long replica of the Truckee River.

Also popular is the Spark!Lab, created in conjunction with the Smithsonian Museum and the only Spark!Lab in the world outside of Washington D.C. “It’s a one-of-a-kind partnership,” says Turner, noting that the two museums share a common donor. “The Spark!Lab in D.C. recognized our potential. We have space dedicated to their programming and vice versa.” The space focuses on creativity and the process of invention.

New galleries, such as the Works, which will explore the human body, flight and music, are planned to open in the future, giving children and adults alike plenty of reasons to keep returning to Reno’s newest hotspot for imagination, creativity and fun.

The Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum is located at 490 South Center Street in Reno, (775) 786-1000 or http://www.nvdm.org.

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