Romie Zumbuhl, age 4, spent time at looking at discovery tubes. She climbed into a tree house and observed a turtle in an aquarium. She spent much of her time exploring other worlds, a post office, a pizza parlor and a vet clinic. All places where she could be the boss and run the show.
What Zumbuhl may not have realized is that she was learning about the world while playing. Her younger brother George, only 18 months old, also spent time exploring different play stations that were covered with different shapes, sizes and colors. It was a fun and fascinating way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Their mother, Jamie, said that is was a place they tried to stop when it was open.
"The hardest part is leaving," Jamie said.
The New Location
It's been a long and steady road for Stacy Fast. What started out as an idea gained momentum from other parents in the community and eventually a goal was reached. Several months of discussion led to the opening the Children's Museum of Northeast Montana.
Fast said it's hard to believe that was nine years ago in March. Parents discussed needing a place for kids to go in winter and after school and had seen other children's museums. They decided to take action, but it took time. Fast is a registered nurse (RN) who works full time, so it took a lot of research on what to do and how to apply to become a non-profit, and how to apply for grants to get started.
"We've grown from there. Now we have schools from out of town come and people who travel two hours or more to visit," Fast said.
Many remember the museum's original location but it has grown and expanded. They needed a bigger space and in 2011 they moved to downtown Glasgow. Skip Erickson explained that the expansion came at a time he was also looking to do something for the community. He needed a place to publicly display the wildlife he had collected for several years.
Children visited Erickson's home to see some of the exotic animals and learn about where they came from. His animals had accumulated so much that many were in storage, unable for anyone to view. That's when Erickson thought that the expansion of the museum could coincide with his expansion and they could do something great for the local community.
"I thought maybe we could look for a location together and I proposed it to the board of directors," Erickson said.
When they acquired the location at 514 2nd Ave. S. they found there was a lot of work to be completed. The building had extensive damage to the roof, which had damaged walls and ceilings. There was also no electrical outlets for what the museum had designed for exhibits. All those exhibits that have been built into the location were mostly covered by grants. About 90 percent of the construction and demo in the building has come from volunteers. Fast explained that now they face bigger bills on their own property and maintenance has weighed down the building and the continuation of repairs and additions.
"We're only open on Saturdays right now because we rely solely on volunteers," Fast said. "We're working on grants to hire some staff."
The purchase of the new building was a big step for the organization. The addition of insurance, property tax and all of the utilities have made things a little tight financially. The building cost $160,000 and the board is still paying off $120,000.
"We're creating a safe environment that empowers children with learning experiences," Fast said. "It's all hands on and they are learning at their own pace."
Erickson explained that he had mentioned the building and it was something the organization had looked at but they hadn't made an agreement with the owner. Erickson stepped in, helped negotiate the offer and also helped with the purchase of the building. He was able to lease another building located behind the museum that would hold his animals for the community viewing.
A new roof was put on the building and walls were torn out, along with portions of damaged ceiling. They also had to put in three new bathrooms, and make the upstairs handicap accessible. With all the work in place for the skeleton of the building, the exhibits could be started. Erickson said that the board was looking for a building where they could build a tree house inside, and that is what they did.
Eventually the mezzanine will hold science, agriculture, automobiles, trains and planes exhibits and an area for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). The hope is to attract older kids who are currently not targeted.
"Currently we are focused on kids age zero to 10," Fast said. "We want to go up to age 14."
They also just received another grant to help build a healthy eating exhibit that they hope to have finished by the end of the month. While currently they're charging $2 per child for entry it's a goal to one day admit children for free.
The museum holds special events, like Kids Night Out. The evening allows kids to come in on a Friday evening for a few hours without parents. They work on crafts and have dinner. They also have summer day camps that get kids involved in cooking, gardening and other learning activities.
"Our goal is to educate," Fast said. "Kids having a good time is what keeps me doing it."
World Wildlife Experience
While the museum has been working hard with the expansion and trying to get the ambiance and exhibits needed for kids to learn from play, Erickson has been hard at work on his new World Wildlife Experience.
It has been four years in planning and it's finally coming close to a finished product. As Erickson recently retired, he's now moved his office to the building that is now leased for the Children's Museum of Northeast Montana. A lot of work had to be done on the building. Before that work got started Erickson went in search for more animals.
One of his passions has been hunting. Along with those passions have come conservation and learning of the different cultures. When his idea to share animals with the public came he went in search for exotic animals to add to the exhibit. Most recently he went to Kyrgyzstan (frequently spelled Kurgistan) in search of the Mid Asia Ibex. His trip took him to a very remote area, just four or five miles from the northwest border of China.
"To get there was a saga on it's own," Erickson said. "I flew 20 hours, drove another 14 and a half hours by car in one stint, and then we still had to get to the hunting base camp."
An additional four hours in a car, led to another six hours on horseback to get to the hunting spike camp. They rode along the Tian Shan mountain range at 13,000 feet in elevation. Erickson said that the particular species he was hunting was one of the largest Ibex, and rarest in the world. Each animal he has collected from around the world brings up memories.
"Every animal tells a tale, on the effort to get to a place, and the effort to get back home," Erickson said.
With this story for only one of more than 150 animals that will be in the exhibit, it's easy to see that Erickson has spent time in his travels and learning about different cultures. He has also collected several artifacts that will go with his animal exhibits. In hopes that children will not only learn about the animal, but learn about the culture that surrounds where the animal came from.
Since Erickson came home from his trip to Kyrgyzstan, he's seen the project come close to completion. Walls have been repaired, electrical and carpet has been installed, and soon the painting will begin. Lighting will have to be customized so it won't damage the animals and artifacts, and will help make a unique environment for different animals.
"It's all going to be display lighting set up to create moods for the habitats," Erickson said. "The lighting will help draw the colors out."
About half the work for the separate building has been from volunteers. Erickson said that some work, like the electrical, they had to hire out people. Currently the Kiwanis Club has stepped up to volunteer their time to paint walls, sand and stain trim and complete other work. Several other volunteers in the community are prepared to help transfer animals to the exhibit.
"I'm hoping by spring we'll have a majority of the work done," Erickson said. "I'm hoping to have it open by early summer."
More animals are being mounted from his more recent hunts. Some of the exhibits could change over time, but he said that the process will be ongoing. He wants to have mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and other animals available. He also explained that some animals will stay in his home. While four years of planning and discussion have led to the children's museum's expansion, it's something that has had growing interest.
"There's excitement in the community, people are asking about it," Erickson said. "It's been through tremendous support in donations to the children's museum and many, many hours of dedication."
Erickson and a few others will help with tours in the World Wildlife Experience. The goal is to educate on conservation of animals as well. Erickson said that his passion to hunt is as big as his passion to teach future generations on the conservation and management of wildlife so that the future generations can also enjoy it.