Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve visited the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Were you on a field trip in elementary school, or was it when you took your young kids to the planetarium, the kids who are busy looking at colleges now? Well, whenever it was, it’s time to reacquaint yourself. CMNH is planning an expansion and major renovations in celebration of its centennial in 2020.
The first major renovation was revealed last September when the Ralph Perkins II Wildlife Center & Woods Garden — Presented by KeyBank opened to the public. The site where the Perkins Wildlife Center is now situated was previously unused space on the south side of the Museum’s campus, but now it could be “the most fascinating two acres in the region,” according to the Plain Dealer’s architecture critic, Steven Litt.
The new exhibit features an elevated walkway where visitors can experience the beech and oak tree canopy, visible from the bustling intersection of East 105th and MLK Drive. From outside the exhibit looks more like an amusement park than a museum. The walkway, ramps and flowing enclosures are meant to allow a closer interaction with the animals and plants than we normally experience. As the enclosures let the animals move throughout the exhibit via overhead trailways, the humans are also encouraged to flow through the exhibit, viewing plants and animals all around, above and below them.
Just like the former Perkins Wildlife Center, the newly expanded and renovated one highlights the plants and animals of Ohio. Exhibits include mammals, like coyotes, foxes, bobcats, raccoons, and otters. Local bird species are well-represented, too, with several kinds of owls, eagles, and Peregrine Falcons. Although our native inhabitants don’t sound exotic, you certainly won’t have an opportunity to view a raccoon or coyote in your backyard the way you can at the Perkins Wildlife Center.
Five ecosystems are represented in the Wildlife Center, permitting visitors to flow from a rich forest to a shrub swamp, from a wild woods garden to a wetland, each filled with the flora and fauna of our state. The Museum’s mission to protect these fragile ecosystems is accomplished each time a visitor is awed by the diversity of Ohio’s natural environment. The more children experience the joy of watching the otters spin and dive through the water, easily seen through the acrylic glass of their underwater enclosure, the more likely those children are to respect and protect the environment when they’re older. The more we learn as adults about the native species we co-exist with in Ohio, the less likely we are to fear the coyotes and foxes in our neighborhoods.
Each of the animals living in the Perkins Wildlife Center has a rescue story. They all came to the Center to live after rescue and rehabilitation and none of them can be safely reintroduced back into the wild. These animals are the ambassadors of the natural world, teaching us through the Museum’s programs and exhibits the importance of our wild neighbors.
We eagerly anticipate the next phase of CMNH’s renovation effort over the next few years. Until then, enjoy the frogs and falcons, the otters and owls, and the many other sights in the new Perkins Wildlife Center. The Museum is open Monday - Saturday, 10am-5pm and on Wednesdays, until 10pm, although the Perkins Wildlife Center closes at 7pm. On Sunday the Museum is open noon - 5pm. Admission for adults is $15, $10 for students and seniors, toddlers two and under are free. After 5pm on Wednesdays, the fee is only $8. You’ll probably want to come back regularly, so consider becoming a member of CMNH and get in for free!
Cleveland Museum of Natural History
1 Wade Oval Drive in University Circle
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