As the dog days of summer roll in, an adventure to Greensboro may be just the thing to usher in fall with a bang.
From Holly Springs: 1 hour, 25 minutes
From Fuquay-Varina: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Buckle up for about an hour and a half in the car, and you’ll be rewarded with a zoo, indoor aquarium and museum all at one location — the Greensboro Science Center.
The facility opened in 1957 with a modest museum and small petting zoo. It has grown to include an interactive play space, called SciPlay Bay, treetop ropes course, a hands-on farmyard, stingray touch tank and an OmniSphere Theater, like a small IMAX.
The science center welcomed 430,000 total visitors in 2018. On its busiest days, it plays host to up to 1,000 children, especially when field trips peak in the late spring.
“Fall is the best time to visit,” says marketing manager Erica Brown. School trips are at a minimum, and the animals tend to be more active in cooler temperatures.
Start your day by heading outdoors to the zoo, where you’ll be greeted by the meerkats and Nile crocodile — perhaps a free-range peacock, too. Gibbons swinging through their habitat like Tarzan and ring-tailed lemurs are nearby crowd favorites.
As you meander the winding paths, look above for a glimpse of SkyWild, the 4-year-old ropes course built into the shady treetops above the zoo. The course was designed with elements to mimic animal behavior, such as lily pads, to hop across and a sloth-style hanging rope climb.
Get personal with the animals at the GSC with Zoo Treks
“Zoo treks are behind-the-scenes adventures,” says Brown. “You can meet the keeper and feed the animals. It’s the closest you can get to the animals here.”
Three “Inside Tracks” programs are available — Aquarium Adventure, Penguin Encounters and Zoo Trek — and they give guests a special look at the habitat, feeding and enrichment of certain species. Peer into the shark reef from above or feed lemurs with a spoon.
Each of these experiences requires a special ticket, and they tend to sell out quickly.
The most popular is the penguin encounter, says Brown. Up to eight people are allowed into a private encounter room, where penguins can play, walk around and pose for photos.
Information available at greensboroscience.org
“You experience what it would be like to move like the animals,” says Brown.
“The Greensboro Science Center was known as a place to bring younger kids, so the SkyWild ropes adventure course was added to appeal to older children,” she says.
After a stop by the friendly farm petting area, head inside to the aquarium, where the various tanks showcase water dependent life from around the world — the Amazon river, a tropical coral reef, and African Penguins. At the 90,000 gallon Caribeean tank, a diver equipped with a microphone holds a question and answer session with visitors while a sandbar shark and Southern stingray swim past.
“There is an educator outside the tank that will write questions on the white board for the diver. The diver will answer from inside the aquarium tank,” says Brown.
Interactive technologies are featured throughout the science center exhibits. Examples include a touch screen projection in the aquarium or video backgrounds in the dinosaur exhibit.
“People are learning in different ways now, so we are incorporating more technology into storytelling techniques,” says Brown. “It’s all about immersion. You can look at fossils and imagine what it would be like, but when they are walking around you, it creates a fuller perspective.”
The Deep Sea Drama, tucked in the back of SciPlay Bay, features an animated, submarine-driving red panda, which at first seems like a looped video until the panda, named Tai, starts quizzing guests on their visit and fielding questions.
“It surprises the children when they can have a dialog,” Brown says.
The domed OmniSphere Theater plays science-based short films, some in 3D, in the afternoons. Catch “Backyard Wilderness” and discover the wonders of nature at home or “Astronaut” to explore outer space. Schedule changes seasonally, so check the website for details and times.
There is ample fun to be had at the GSC, but their mission is founded in conservation and education. As an accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, the GSC is held to high standards regarding their animals’ habitats and treatment.
“So much is going on behind the scenes,” says Brown. “All of our exhibits get enrichment everyday.”
Many of the species housed at the center are endangered, and particular care is taken to maintain the health and integrity of the animals and their surroundings. The GSC’s breeding efforts are overseen by the AZA, which monitors genetic traits within a species and recommends animals for breeding based favorable genetic matchups. Animals in the GSC are separated or combined accordingly, and several births have occurred as a result, including South African penguins, gibbons and Maned wolf pups to name a few.
The road to the GSC passes by numerous cafes and eateries. Cap off your visit with a taste of G-boro.
Hops Burger Bar
Creative, cooked-to-order burgers and fries.
2138 Lawndale Drive, Greensboro
Mac’s Speed Shop
Award-winning, N.C.-based ‘cue with a massive beer list.
1218 Battleground Ave., Greensboro
Layer cakes, pie, cookies, and other goodness.
2403 Battleground Ave., Greensboro
Pit-cooked, Lexington-style barbecue since 1930.
2812 Battleground Ave., Greensboro
A portion of every admission ticket sold goes to the center’s conservation efforts, and multiple fundraisers throughout the year, such as the Tuxedo Trot 5K or Brews & Bubbles, add to that.
The GSC’s Conservation and Research Grant offers staff the opportunity to learn from field programs around the world. Shannon Anderson, lead penguin keeper, recently spent 10 days in South Africa assisting the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds with their rescue and rehabilitation efforts.
“It was very different working with wild birds,” Anderson says. “We were encouraged to be rough. … You didn’t coddle them; you pushed them to meet milestones to keep them on track with their development and growth. In the end, the chicks were going to rejoin the colony, and they had to have the skills necessary to survive.”
When she discovered a compromised penguin egg in a nest box at GSC, Anderson applied knowledge gained working with SANCCOB to care for and successfully hatch a new chick.
“A lot of us are here because we care so much about wild animals.” says Brown. “A lot of people see a zoo and think it’s cute animals, something fun to do. But there’s just so much more.”
Greensboro Science Center
4301 Lawndale Drive, Greensboro
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