Historic downtown Wilson, a short forty-five-minute drive from Raleigh, holds a perfect sized, hands-on science museum that made our family’s Saturday.
“On your mark. Get set. Go!” My husband cheers as our six-year-old races against a cheetah, or rather a cheetah’s running time, at the Race the Wild exhibit at Imagination Station in downtown Wilson. We’re learning about sprinting, anaerobic exercise, and why we would be dead meat if we were up against a big cat in the wild. The kids love this one. We mostly have the museum to ourselves this Saturday, so we spend a good five minutes on the track seeing how we stack up against the other competitors: a swimmer, a gorilla, a beaver, a hockey player, a turtle, a greyhound. For the record, I’m faster than a beaver.
Elsewhere in the Body-ology room on the main floor, our nine-year-old scrambles to the top of the indoor rock-climbing wall. This four-sided tower gives him plenty of challenges on the different courses and I’m grateful for the padded floor when he takes a giant leap from near the top instead of climbing down. We twist like snowboarders, test our ups on Vertical Jump, an exhibit that tests how high you can jump and high five, take a turn on a stair climber, all while learning about how we move and our incredible body systems.
This interactive museum is a dream for my kids. They are running around like the tiny ADD, excitable creatures they are, trying to be the first to say “look at this” or “check this one out” as we explore. Buttons, so many buttons to push, at the room-sized Science on a Sphere® (SOS). The giant projected 3-D globe display lets the boys discover and see the Earth’s planetary data fueled by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). We’re all fascinated by the projections of atmospheric storms on the giant animated globe. The boys have fun pressing buttons and making the world change colors, before one of them moves on to the light exhibit to discover how rainbows are created.
On the second floor, we wander into the Herpeterium where we find Harry Houdini, a beautiful gray and red mole kingsnake native to western North Carolina, who has a reputation for escaping. The handler asks if we want to meet him and our six-year-old’s eyes widen as he nods a resounding, “Yeah!”
“He eats once every other week,” says Jeff Jenkins, Education Programmer and Animal Care Supervisor at Imagination Station. He gently places Harry in our six-year-old’s hands.
“Oh my gosh, he’s licking me!”
“That’s how he smells you and figures out what you’re about,” says Jeff.
Harry is part of an impressive room filled with a thick, 20-foot-long, yellow and white Burmese python, turtles of all kinds, and a baby alligator named Dundee on loan from Alligator Adventure in Myrtle Beach.
“Dundee is 2.5 years old. He’ll stay here until he gets too big and then he’ll go back to the Alligator Adventure program,” says Jeff. “You want to meet him, too?”
The kids’ eyes widen as Jeff brings him out of his enclosure, which includes a small pond and a log where he can perch.
“I think he’s smiling at us,” says our nine-year-old as Dundee shows us his rows of small, sharp teeth.
Jeff tells us that alligators can live to be 100 years old, grow to be 2,000 pounds, and reach 18 feet in length. Suddenly, we are all grateful for Dundee who is perhaps a foot and a half long and weighs closer to 10 pounds.
In the next room we meet animals that are a little more my speed. A pair of parakeets squawk a greeting. There are a few small furry guinea pigs, but I don’t get much of a chance to see them as the volunteer has brought out Mocha and Maddie–two beautiful brown bunnies–into a playpen and invited the boys to hold them.
“I love animals!” shouts six before earnestly showing how calm and gentle he can be so he will have a turn holding Mocha.
On the third floor we find an incredibly appropriate exhibit on the 100+ years of epidemics and pandemics like the Spanish Flu that ravaged Wilson and the rest of the world. At this point the kids don’t need an exhibit to explain all about quarantines and masks, but they are intrigued by the long vaccine graphic that takes up the far wall showing the history of vaccines and diseases they have eradicated.
“See, something like this has happened before, boys,” says my husband, before he reads to them about “The Vaccines that Saved Our Lives” like smallpox, tetanus, cholera, polio, and more recently hepatitis and shingles. We’re excited to see “Covid-19” has made it on the mural for 2021.
We bound back down the stairs to the first level and let the kids have another turn at the games and interactive exhibits in the Body-ology room before heading outside.
“Mom! Mom! Can we come back next weekend?” A rare, but delightful request that I’m sure to grant soon. Imagination Station is just one place that sparks wonder in downtown Wilson. With restaurants, art galleries, unique shops and the Whirligig Park and Museum, I can already imagine another day trip filled with discovery.