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Sneak Peek at New Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden (aka the Arboretum Expansion)

Yesterday a number of us got to tour the new $62 million, 8-acre Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden at the Arboretum. It will open September 21. We’re on deadline, so I don’t have time to gush too much about this place, but you need to know this: HUGE. With all due respect to the Perot, this thing is about to become to the coolest family attraction in Dallas (in fact, I think it will ameliorate the crowding problem at the Perot). A few details from the press kit:

[T]he Children’s Garden has 17 galleries or “learning rooms,” each with a specific theme, to teach and demonstrate science concepts.

More than 150 interactive exhibits, many using technology (computers, flatscreens, etc.).

The Plants Are Alive area has giant-size plants, some 16-foot tall, making visible the smallest plant parts. Habitats is a 500-linear-foot trail that winds through a woodland ecosystem. There, children learn about the interconnections among people, plants and animals. An adventure bridge, a 30-foot tree snag and a canopy walk above the habitat trail add excitement and challenge.

The Exploration Center is a 9,100-square-foot building that employs innovative exhibits and interactive technology to engage children in all aspects of life and earth science exploration. Features include a plant lab for experiments, smart tables CSI mysteries to solve, a soil lab and the signature feature, the OmniGlobe.

Here’s what the Arboretum needs to know (and what I told its president, Mary Brinegar): their worst-case scenario is their best-case scenario. By that I mean: here come the crowds. The Arboretum plans to use timed tickets, like the Perot does, but the new garden will accommodate only 1,500 at a time. What’s the optimal time block? Initially they thought two hours would be long enough. After running some test kids through the joint, now they’re thinking three. If the weather’s nice, I think five might not be long enough. There’s not another attraction like this in the world, so they can’t just research best practices; it’s an educated guess.

Then there’s parking. The new garden comes with an additional 90 parking spots. And the Aboretum has negotiated with Lincoln Properties to continue to run a shuttle service from Lincoln’s lot at the corner of Garland and Gaston. But that agreement ends in May. The Arboretum — and the city — need to find a permanent solution and find it quickly. Dirt needs to start flying now on the planned parking garage on the east side of Garland, across from the Arboretum.

Before the wildly successful Chihuly exhibit, the Arboretum had about 26,000 members. Now it has about 35,000. As a result of a bunch of glass. I made a gentleman’s wager with Brinegar: 18 months after the children’s garden opens, membership will have doubled. The folks at Klyde Warren Park have been pleasantly surprised by how many visitors they are attracting from the suburbs. I think the same thing will happen at the Arboretum. This garden — really, it’s a science lab — will attract new members from greater distances. Brinegar and her team have created something wonderful. I hope they are up for the enormous challenge that their creation now presents.

Okay, enough of that. You want pictures. First I’ll get a little freaky on you, then I’ll give you some normal shots.

There stands at the center of the garden a 30-foot-tall treehouse of sorts. They call it a “tree snag and a canopy walk.” Whatever. Along its railing are mounted binoculars and monoculars aimed out over White Rock Lake. For the most part, trees obscure the far bank of the lake, but there are some gaps through which a few houses can be espied. Thus:

Wide angle view over treehouse spy glass.
A wide-angle view of the treehouse spyglass
Through the spyglass, you can see John Amend's replica of Mount Vernon, which is on the market for $30 million
Through the spyglass, you can see John Amend’s replica of Mount Vernon, which is on the market for $30 million.

Let’s have a look to the north a bit, shall we? I don’t know whose house this is, but I bet an alert FrontBurnervian can help us.

If it were my house, I'd commission a realistic statue of a nude sunbather and put that sucker by the pool. (By the way, I shot these with an iPhone. Not the best tool for the job. Also, the phone doesn't work as well a real camera. (Pow!) You can see this more clearly when you're actually looking through the spyglass with your own peepers.)
If it were my house, I’d commission a realistic statue of a nude Santa and I’d put that sucker on my chimney. (By the way, I shot these with an iPhone. Not the best tool for the job. Also, the phone doesn’t work as well as a real camera. (Pow!) You can see this more clearly when you’re actually looking through the spyglass with your own peepers.)

Shall we move on to some pictures of the Meyers Garden itself? Yes, let’s.

This, obviously, is an anatomically correct, life-sized, googly-eyed caterpillar.
This, obviously, is an anatomically correct, life-sized, googly-eyed caterpillar.
This is an exhibit where children can study Zac and how he grows.
This is an exhibit where children can study Zac and how he grows.
This is where you play soccer until a docent comes up and say, "Would you please stop playing soccer on the canopy walk?"
This is where you play soccer until a docent comes up and says, “Would you please stop playing soccer on the canopy walk?”
Here we see several well-dressed Ewoks approaching the hollowed-out tree where the Keebler Elves live.
Here we see several well-dressed Ewoks approaching the hollowed-out tree where the Keebler Elves live.
Cargo pants, meet cargo netting. (Seriously. You think three hours is going to be long enough? My 7-year-old daughter would spend three hours just playing on this thing alone.)
Cargo pants, meet cargo netting. (Seriously. You think three hours is going to be long enough? My 7-year-old daughter would spend three hours just playing on this thing alone.)
The staff calls this "the most expensive light switch ever built." It's part of the Pure Energy exhibit, and it uses an Achimedes' screw to lift water then use its kinetic energy to eventually light a bulb.
The staff calls this “the most expensive light switch ever built.” It’s part of the Pure Energy exhibit, and it uses an Achimedes’ screw to lift water then use its kinetic energy to eventually light a bulb.
Here is where hordes of unruly children will gather to re-create their favorite scenes from "The Hunger Games."
Here is where hordes of unruly children will gather to re-create their favorite scenes from “The Hunger Games.”
Public shower
Public shower
This thing itself is worth the visit. Inside the 9,100-square-foot Exploration Center, you'll find what's called an OmniGlobe. There are only five of them in the state, and this is the biggest model they make. Using a touchscreen, you can dial up hurricane Sandy and watch it crash into the East Coast. You can watch the Japanese tsunami as it ripples across the planet. You can even turn it into Jupiter. There are about 80 programs you can run, and the thing is connected to internet, so it updates with new data constantly. I could easily spend a couple hours screwing around with the OmniGlobe. Truly fascinating.
This thing itself is worth the visit. Inside the 9,100-square-foot Exploration Center, you’ll find what’s called an OmniGlobe. There are only five of them in the state, and this is the biggest model they make. Using a touchscreen, you can dial up hurricane Sandy and watch it crash into the East Coast. You can watch the Japanese tsunami as it ripples across the planet. You can even turn it into Jupiter. There are about 80 programs you can run, and the thing is connected to the internet, so it updates with new data constantly. I could easily spend a couple hours screwing around with the OmniGlobe. Truly fascinating.

14 comments on “Sneak Peek at New Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden (aka the Arboretum Expansion)

  1. That’s funny. But please understand that it has been executed tastefully. Man, once all the plantings grow in and everything, this place is going to be a real joy — if they can manage the crowds.

    My advice is that they should run this thing like Lucia. So what if it takes three months to get a reservation? I’m sure some members will be pissed. “I’m a member, and I can’t even get to see this with my family!” So be it.

  2. More kids in Lakewood? Just what we need! Our schools are full and the transfer applications keep coming in! Children are even overrunning the “cool” restaurants.

  3. Wait. You’re saying that Arboretum will prompt people to MOVE to East Dallas with their children? Like, someone from Plano will say, “This is a tough decision. The schools here are great. But we’ve got to do it for our kids. They need to be closer to the OmniGlobe.”

    I like where your head is at.

  4. Does not look very impressive or worth $63 million. Did you have a “real camera” with you? I bet you couldn’t have taken a picture through the spy glass with a “real camera”

  5. Actually, yes, Lavin was out shooting something else that morning. In any case, though, this was just a quickie. We’re working on something that will provide you with much better photography. Don’t be flummoxed.

  6. Maybe run your ignorant remarks by someone before you post them online. Just a suggestion.

  7. This is great for the community. A wonderful way to get kids out doors and explore. Very cool.