Cleveland Museum of Natural History Dedicates New Wildlife Center

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by David C. Barnett

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History's new 14-million-dollar nature facility opens to the public, over the Labor Day weekend.  The revamped Perkins Wildlife Center puts visitors up-close with eagles, and nose-to-wet nose with river otters.  ideastream's David C. Barnett reports  the center was dedicated Friday with a ribbon-cutting and a preview tour.  

Tom Hennes of Thinc Design says that when he told Natural History Museum officials that he wanted to build their new wildlife center on a steeply-sloped hill, they were highly skeptical.  But, there didn't seem to be many skeptics at the ribbon-cutting.  Hennes says the landscape is what makes the new facility work.

"Because of the slope, it offered the opportunity to get up into the trees and down close to the ground and have a lot of different views of the animals."

The original concept behind the Perkins Center was to connect visitors with local animals --- every thing from common crows and racoons, to less familiar creatures, like bobcats and coyotes.  The old facility was a line of fenced-in habitats along a winding trail.  Naturalist Harvey Webster says the new place let's you experience nature from the animal's perspective --- elevated walkways literally give a bird's-eye view; a plastic wall puts visitors inches away from river otters as they swim by.

"The deal here was, how could we create an environment that's immersive --- you're very immersed: you're coming down this walkway that goes downslope, so you feel like you're sort of in the pond with the otters, and you actually walk through a wetland and see turtles on the side."

The animals were introduced to their new home this past week, and some of them are just starting to take their first steps outside.  But, if a couple of diving and frolicking otters are any sign, their new digs are making a big splash.

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