by Tom Sims
It was a grandpa day again. Grandpas are always on the hunt for the next big adventure. This day, I had a seven year old and a five year old with enough energy to rival a nuclear power plant and enough curiosity to fill a large city phone book with questions in 6 point type.
Fortunately, I read the Fresno Bee that morning to “discover a discovery”–Discovery Center that is! The grand reopening of the museum after 13 years was taking place that afternoon and my name was all over the general, nameless invitation.
So, I secured funding from the Bank of Mrs. Sims and started feeding the excitement meters of Kaibian and Jorgia. We would be going somewhere new, different, and wonderful.
Fortunately, I was right.
I arrived a little early and was first on the scene. That worried me a little, but not for long. Jim Walton, the caretaker/third-in-command greeted me with a spirit of enthusiasm, pride, and the sort of “ownership” of the vision that every community based organization craves in its employees. Before knowing that I was doing a story, he was telling me the history of the six acre park, the museum, the winery that used to be on the property, and the demonstration gardens that were operated by the Master Gardeners.
I was impressed.
The kids were scattered. Their eyes had already popped out of their heads. As rustic and real as the place is, they were entranced by the variety, the imaginative structures, the ponds, the fish, the worm farm, the scooters, the trails, and the open spaces.
I thought, “This is the answer to a grandpa’s prayer. I could find a seat if I wanted to and just let them have at it.”
The problem with that was that I wanted to explore too.
Originally called, “The Fresno Jr. Museum of Science and Natural History,” the center was established in 1954. It was named “Discovery Center” in the 70s. By 2000, the Center was hosting classes and clubs, had a wonderful park, the Garden of the Sun, and a thriving museum. The museum burned in 2000.
It has taken that long to get things reopened. The process of making that happen is a long story of perseverance and community support, but it is a different story. During the interim period, classes on and off-site continued, the park remained open, and the gardens thrived.
Mary Ellen Wright began to volunteer in 2009. Later, she became a member of the board. Finally, she became the Executive Director. Her joy and enthusiasm for the reopening of the Center were obvious on Saturday.
Ian Goudelock, Assistant Director was delighted to facilitate my membership. Yes. I joined on the family plan!
I was surprised to see my friend Gary Pigg greeting me at the front door, all smiles. Then I remembered that he was Board President. Gary is go-to guy in the world of Fresno’s community based organizations. He has been part of shepherding of this rebirth for years.
“This is a place to come play,” Gary recently told an interviewer from Channel 47 and reiterated to me. It’s about having a hands-on learning experience with science and nature. He was clearly gratified by the exclamation of grandson, Kaibian as we approached the door, “This is the best day ever!”
Other memorable quotes I took down on the envelope that archived my notes were from parents on site:
“Wow!” and “This is pretty cool!”
There is no city funding for this project whose stated mission is “hands-on science for kids and families.” Donations are welcomed.
The longer statement is, “At the Discovery Center, imaginations are free to run wild, as are your children. Whether they are digging in our Dino Dig Site or fishing for creatures in our Walden Pond, your children will find something exciting at The Discovery Center.
The Discovery Center is located on 5 acres (some documents say 6) that was donated to the children of the Valley. It was originally The Roessler Winery, site of the Estella Blanca Vineyards, founded by F.M. Roessler in 1892 to produce brandy until the time of Prohibition. Some of the original buildings still stand including the Vernacular Adobe Barn, built by Fred Roessler and a school house.
After closing the winery, the property became known as “Reedy Park”.
I walked the kids over every trail on the property and looked at every outdoor offering before persuading them that there were even more wonders inside. Finally we went in and the excitement escalated to the next level. The completely refurbished facility is teeming with life and imagination. Room after room is filled with adventure and discovery. Interactive experiences abound.The volunteers were present in force with big smiles, good information, and a willingness to teach. Katie, a young High School senior, presided over the reptile room and , along with Jim Walton, helped the children greet, pet, and hold snakes, lizards, and maybe one or two other critters with great stories about their personalities and preferences.
Beyonce, the bearded dragon is six months old. She likes to be held. Max is a bigger lizard. Holding him is not an option, but he likes to be touched…gently.
An especially intriguing part of the museum is the Music and Sound Exhibit. Local musician, John Martin III donated his time to set it up and lent some his personal instruments to the exhibit. Kids can experiment with the sounds and make music themselves.
Geography, geology, biology, natural history, math, mechanics, physics, color, astronomy, and chemistry are all integrated into the exhibits. There is even a real Gemini NASA training capsule on the property and a challenging maze. The Deutsch Cactus Garden is located along the trails as is a Miwok village of three traditional structures.
There are plenty of picnic tables, lots of room for groups, opportunities for half and full day rentals, and scooters to ride on. Children can catch fish with nets if they agree to put them back!
Admission is $6 for adults. Children are $4. Kids 3 and under are free. Memberships are paid for in two or three visits. There are a number of perks that go with that in addition to free admission. Once you have made a visit, the children will give you no rest until you go back. So, you might as well join! Kaibian has been asking me every morning if we are going back today.
We will be going back. So will you. Discover it for yourself!
The Discovery Center is located at 1944 N. Winery Ave. in southeast Fresno. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Call them at (559) 251-5533.
For more information on The Garden of the Sun and the Master Gardener program – http://ucanr.edu/sites/mgfresno/Garden_of_the_Sun_Demonstration_Garden/
For more history of the Roessler Winery, see: Valleys Legends & Legacies III and Imperial Fresno: Resources, Industries and Scenery, Illustrated and Described.