A weekend jaunt to Greensboro may be just the thing to liven up your fall.
Buckle up for about an hour and a half in the car, and you’ll be rewarded with a zoo, indoor aquarium and museum, all at one location — the Greensboro Science Center.
The facility opened in 1957 with a modest museum and small petting zoo. It has grown to include an interactive play space, called SciPlay Bay, a treetop ropes course, a hands-on farmyard, stingray touch tank and an OmniSphere Theater.
The science center welcomed 430,000 visitors in 2018. On its busiest days, it hosts up to 1,000 children, especially when school field trips peak in late spring.
“Fall is the best time to visit,” said marketing manager Erica Brown. There are fewer school groups, and the animals tend to be more active in cooler temperatures.
Start your day by heading outdoors to the zoo, where you’ll be greeted by the meerkats and Nile crocodile — perhaps a free-range peacock, too. Gibbons swinging through their habitat like Tarzan and ring-tailed lemurs are nearby crowd favorites.
As you meander the winding paths, look above for a glimpse of SkyWild, the ropes course built into the shady treetops above the zoo. The course was designed with elements to mimic animal behavior, such as lily pads, to hop across and a sloth-style hanging rope climb.
“You experience what it would be like to move like the animals,” Brown said. “The Greensboro Science Center was known as a place to bring younger kids, so the SkyWild ropes adventure course was added to appeal to older children.”
After a stop at the farm-animal petting area, head inside to the aquarium, where tanks showcase water-dependent life from around the world — the Amazon river, the coast of Africa or a tropical coral reef. At the 90,000-gallon Caribbean tank, a diver equipped with a microphone takes questions from visitors while a sandbar shark and Southern stingray swim past.
“There is an educator outside the tank that will write questions on the white board for the diver. The diver will answer from inside the aquarium tank,” said Brown.
Interactive technologies are featured throughout the science center. Examples include a touch screen projection in the aquarium or video backgrounds in the dinosaur exhibit.
“People are learning in different ways now, so we are incorporating more technology into storytelling techniques,” said Brown. “It’s all about immersion. You can look at fossils and imagine what it would be like, but when they are walking around you, it creates a fuller perspective.”
The Deep Sea Drama, tucked in the back of SciPlay Bay, features a submarine-driving red panda, which at first seems like a looped video until the animated panda starts quizzing guests on their visit.
From Cary: 1hr 18 min
From Raleigh: 1hr 25 min
“It surprises the children when they can have a dialogue,” Brown said.
The domed OmniSphere Theater — like a small IMAX — plays science-based short films in the afternoon. Catch “Backyard Wilderness” and discover the wonders of nature at home, or explore outer space with “Astronaut.” The schedule changes seasonally, so check the website for details.
There are lots of fun and games at the center, but its mission is serious. As an accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, the GSC is held to high standards regarding its animals’ habitats and treatment.
“So much is going on behind the scenes,” Brown said.
Many of the species housed at the center are endangered, and its breeding efforts are overseen by the zoo association, which monitors genetic traits within a species. The center has had several successful births, including South African penguins, gibbons and maned wolves to name a few.
A portion of every admission ticket sold goes to the center’s conservation efforts, and multiple fundraisers throughout the year add to that.
“A lot of us are here because we care so much about wild animals,” said Brown. “A lot of people see a zoo and think it’s cute animals, something fun to do, but there’s just so much more.”
Greensboro Science Center
4301 Lawndale Drive, Greensboro
Get Personal With the Animals at the GSC with Zoo Treks
“Zoo treks are behind-the-scenes adventures,” says Erica Brown, marketing manager. “You can meet the keeper and feed the animals. It’s the closest you can get to the animals here.”
Three “Inside Tracks” programs are available — Aquarium Adventure, Penguin Encounters and Zoo Trek — and they give guests a special look at the habitat, feeding and enrichment of certain species. Peer into the shark reef from above, or feed lemurs with a spoon.
Each of these experiences requires a special ticket, and they tend to sell out quickly.
The most popular is the penguin encounter, says Brown. Up to eight people are allowed into a private encounter room, where penguins can play, walk around
and pose for photos.
Information available at greensboroscience.org
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