The New Exhibit That Lets Kids Run Wild
If you only think of the Portland Children’s Museum when it rains, prepare to have your mind blown. The museum’s new permanent exhibit, Outdoor Adventure, will have your entire family outside and having fun with nature. From sand and fountains, to mud and creeks, to boulders and trees, this exhibit is serious free-range fun.
Landscape architects at Mayer Reed designed the space’s layout and it’s kind of unbelievable to see what they’ve done with 1.3 acres of seemingly unusable real estate. The space is three times the size of the museum’s interior, which not only gives outdoor lovers a place to go rain or shine, but also ups the museum’s daily admission capacity and draws in older kiddos, as well.
It all begins in the space formerly known as The Dig Pit. Now, you’ll find the first stop in the new exhibit. The Field Station is an area with couches, cubbies, curtains and room to chill out or put on rain boots and jackets, furnished by IKEA. Umbrellas are available for anyone to use and there’s also an interactive map of the space to give you an idea of what’s outside.
Once outside, look to the right and you’ll see the colorful animal mosaic mural on the wall from Tacoma artist, Mauricio Robalino. The mural contains the names of sponsors, as well as owls and other small animals the children from the Opal School thought might live in the Outdoor Adventure space.
Next up, it’s the Toddler Area, which has a low fence and gate surrounding its perimeter. Inside the fence is sand to scoop, squirting water to capture, boulders to climb and benches for parents to enjoy.
Watch the Kidlets
While you’re still at the top of the enormous hill, you’ll see 2 picnic tables and chairs with large umbrellas, perfect for a coffee date with a friend while your children explore down the hill. The exhibit has roughly 80% visibility, making it easy to sit and watch, or walk through and explore along with your children. The entire area is fenced, as well, so no one wanders in – or out – without first going through the museum, and at night, the whole place is lit by tall street lamps that look like dandelion puffs.
Float Your Boat
Along the ADA accessible gravel path, you’ll cross bridges that go over a little waterfall and rippling creeks that are filled with children chasing small wooden boats or damming up the water works with sticks.
Build a Fort
Another area features campsite props, like tarps and bigger sticks for crafting mighty forts and play campfires, while provided buckets and shovels allow kiddos to get good and filthy in the mud.
Climb a Tree
The Zoom Tree is next and has tons of branches down low and up high for kids of all ages. The brilliant designers decided to terrace logs to help preserve the tree’s roots, slow down erosion and to provide an easier stepping path for the munchkins. Kids can climb around to the side of the Zoom Tree and hike down the hill, into the grassy meadow.
Have a Picnic
At the bottom of the path is a pavilion with restrooms and covered areas with tables, perfect for birthday parties and picnic lunches. There’s also an amphitheater for summertime storytelling and performances with seats made from gigantic boulders from Multnomah Falls.
In the works, the museum is seeking certification as a Wild Animal Habitat and have a handful of bat, bird and owl houses high up in the trees, sprinkled throughout the exhibit. Later this month (drum roll, please), renown natural materials artist, Patrick Dougherty, is expected to install an inaugural piece in the open meadow area.
Good to Know
Pack a water bottle, sunscreen, towel, swimsuit or change of clothes and either check it out ASAP, or wait for Free First Friday at the museum. The next one’s on June 6th.
Where to Find It
To find Outdoor Adventure, hang a left at the check in desk, go past the snack area, and head back to the space formerly known as the Dig Pit.
Portland Children’s Museum
4015 SW Canyon Rd.
Portland, Or 97221
Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily
Have you been to Outdoor Adventure yet? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below!
— Suzie Ridgway
Photos courtesy of Garret Downen and Portland Children’s Museum