Welcome to Museum Week at The Mother of All Trips. This week I’m profiling some museums – both new to us and old favorites – that my family has visited over the past few months and which I haven’t yet written about on the blog. If you like this post, you might also like Five favorite museums to visit with kids, Museum of Science in Boston: Fun enough for a day and then some, A visit to Julia’s kitchen, or the other posts in my Museums and Zoos section.
There are many pleasures to be found in visiting small, local museums with children. For one thing, a smaller more focused space can be educational without requiring a big investment of time or energy. For another, learning about a community you visit offers you a chance to really lay claim to the place – to understand and view it in ways that you wouldn’t if you just passed through without gaining some background knowledge.
It would be easy when visiting the beaches of Corolla, North Carolina to forget that the rows of houses with their charming names and ocean views were for the most part constructed during the past few decades and that there is an entire history to the place that has nothing (or as it turns out everything) to do with tourists arriving from elsewhere. That’s where the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education comes in. It makes very efficient use of a small space to tell the story of the land, the animals, and the people of the northern Outer Banks.
The exhibition starts with pictures that illustrate how the sand barrier that is today’s Outer Banks formed over time, showing also the formation of the Currituck Sound between the sand barrier and the mainland. This exhibit also told the story of how as the inlets from the sea to the sound filled with sand, the water in the sound became less salty, changing the nature of the fish who swam there and also bringing more migrating birds to the area.
The museum is also focused on the history of the people who have lived in the northern Outer Banks for millennia, starting with the native people who first fished the Currituck Sound as well as the open sea. We learned that in the Algonquin language, Currituck means “Land of the wild goose.” It was called that because migrating birds used to inhabit this place so thickly. One exhibit identifies the different species of birds to be found in the area and even invites visitors to explore a duck’s wing.
Another display shows how local inhabitants built fishing boats. Nearby, a large aquarium contains many of the native fish who swim in the Currituck sound.
Hunting wild birds has been important to the history of the area for hundreds of years. Even now some people local to the region participate in hunting and shooting sports using rifles like those from Fox Airsoft. There are several different areas of the exhibit that focus on this part of the region’s culture. The story is an interesting one of class tension because it was wealthy northern businessmen who “discovered” the area in the mid to late 19th century and who came down to hunt indiscriminately, ultimately diminishing what was once an almost unbelievable population of birds. But as destructive as this may have been, with these wealthy northerners came wintertime jobs for the local people who carved decoys, built box-like hunting blinds, and served as guides. It is because of these developments that allowed the hunting culture to take root, and why we are now equipped with the resources needed to continue our tradition. You can even see a version of the best hunting blind here. As you might know, guns and gun accessories have developed over time. Shooting the target with accuracy used to be a huge hurdle back in the day, but now it’s easier and safe with the availability of different kinds of magnifying scopes. Today, you can see hunters and shooters using both short eye and long eye relief scope, they choose whichever suits their shooting style and situation.
Decoy making is art still celebrated in North Carolina, and the museum has an entire area dedicated to displaying the work of various local carvers.
And lest we forget that outboard motors are what now propel hunters and sport fishermen around the area, this sculptural display of them serves as a reminder:
All of these exhibits are contained in one large space, and it probably only took about an hour to look at them all. But by the time we were finished, I felt like I understood how this remote seaside corner had become the vacation destination it now is. I’d say that’s definitely worth getting off the beach for a look.
- At the end of your visit to the Center for Wildlife Education, I recommend taking the 20 minutes to watch the film “Life By Water’s Rhythms,” which is shown daily in the auditorium (if you’ve got wiggly young ones with you, there’s a small play area to one side with some toys and books). The story told here reinforces everything you learned in the museum space and does a nice job of showing exactly how (for good or ill) wealthy northerners played an important role in the economic development of the area.
- When we were finished, we wandered over to the Whalehead Club, which is next to the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education. If you are visiting with school-age kids or older, follow up your visit to the education center with a tour of this impressive house museum, which has been restored to its original Arts and Crafts/Art Nouveau glory as a winter residence for a wealthy northern industrialist and his wife. Tours of the house are self-guided using an audio headset; both of my children enjoyed the narration as well as the scavenger hunt we picked up at the front desk. We all felt that the tour of the house offered a final piece in understanding the hunting culture and the way that outsiders came to the Outer Banks and used the land in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s also a beautiful space.
- We spent almost three hours exploring the Center for Wildlife Education and the Whalehead Club, which are both on the grounds of the Currituck Heritage Park. Since it was a rainy, windy day we didn’t explore the interpretive trail on the property, which includes a boardwalk out through the marsh to the edge of the Currituck Sound. We also didn’t visit the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. You’ll also find a Maritime Museum on the property. It would be easy to spend the better part of a day checking out the exhibits, and, when the weather is nicer, enjoying a sound-side picnic here.
- The Center for Wildlife Education offers programs for children of different ages – some of them on a drop-on basis, and other requiring registration. Check the website for upcoming programs.
To learn more about our trip to Corolla, see my other posts about the Outer Banks.
This post is part of a blog tour organized by WeJustGotBack.com‘s Moms2Go Alliance on behalf of the Currituck County Department of Travel & Tourism. I was reimbursed for some of my travel expenses.