Southern Vermont Natural History Museum looks for new home

MARLBORO >> Southern Vermont Natural History Museum officials began looking at new sites after deciding more space will be needed.

“We’re exploring different places,” said the museum’s Executive Director Ed Metcalfe. “We looked at about half a dozen. Some of them are just very cursory looking.”

Space can be limited inside the museum’s current location at the Hogback Mountain Scenic Overlook on Route 9 in Marlboro, which is shared with the Hogback Mountain Gift Shop. Parking can be difficult on busy or snowy days, when cars are either parked in a lot across the street from the museum or along Route 9. And vehicular crashes into the building are becoming more common.

The museum announced it was looking for a new home on Feb. 26. The board of directors unanimously decided moving would be best and Metcalfe said the announcement would help gauge community support.

“We’ve never said to the public we need to find a better spot where we can have a more comprehensive museum,” he said. “This is a way of doing that.”

The hope is to identify a new location then start raising money for the move within the next six to 12 months.

Growth was a big factor cited in the decision to move. Over the past four years, Metcalfe said he has seen record numbers of people attending the museum and participating in different programs offered there. His data showed over 20,000 people visited in 2014.

Museum directors are looking to house more exhibits and expand programming. Currently, Metcalfe said there is not enough space to offer all of the activities they want to.

“We’d like to have classroom space so if we had a visiting school group, we could be doing a program with them in there and other people could visit the museum,” he added. “Thirty to 60 kids kind of inundates the space. In a bigger space, it wouldn’t be that way.”

According to a press release, the new site would be considerably larger than the current location and it would feature a natural history themed play area for young children as well as an aquarium large enough to hold 2-foot lake trout and other indigenous species. Live animal exhibits would be improved and diversified. Exhibits involving astronomy, geology, Native Americans and weather would be expanded. There also would be a major focus on the changing landscape of Vermont.

Leaving Hogback behind

Metcalfe noted the current location’s access to Hogback Mountain Conservation Area. The former ski resort property has plenty of hiking trails and a view frequented by tourists.

“That would be a loss,” said Metcalfe.

However, another location could still offer similar outdoor activities. As an example, Metcalfe pointed at a potential location in downtown Wilmington, where there would be access to the Valley Trail and streams.

A list of criteria for the project exists. It’s just not on paper. In addition to wanting a bigger facility, Metcalfe and assistant director Michael Clough want improved handicap and bus accessibility.

“We want to stay in southern Vermont and probably Windham County,” said Metcalfe.

Contact Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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