New Exhibits Coming to Life at Heller Nature Center

March 29, 2023

One of the most popular education centers on the Northshore is getting ready to unveil a brand new set of interactive exhibits, all about the wonders of the world that surround Heller Nature Center. These beautiful displays have been specially designed to replace or enhance the beloved exhibit areas that have been inspiring kids and families for more than 20 years. The combination of traditional materials and new technology makes each of the areas easily accessible to all ages and fun for everyone. Here’s a peek at what’s to come.

Who Eats Who

If the name alone isn’t enough to get kids excited, this new exhibit will give them a hands-on lesson into the circle of life. Designed to replace the current Flying Squirrel display, there are individual pieces showing a variety of animals that you can place where you think they belong, based on guessing “Who Eats Who.” Each magnetized piece will generate a sound when put onto the display: Yum if you’re correct, and Yuck if you’ve guessed wrong. Keep trying (and remember what you’ve done before!) until every piece is in just the right spot.

The multi-sensory and multi-purpose Creature Theatre is a unique area where families can discover, play, and create their own stories. There are scent boxes, where you can test just how good your nose for nature is. Look closely around the exhibit and you’ll discover lots of natural items, including pine cones, animal bones, insects and much more. Puppets are waiting patiently for you in their boxes, and when you find them, you can choose one of the natural play area mats—a pond, a prairie, or a forest—to help make up your own nature story. Then, act it out in the Theater! This is a creative space you’ll come back to again and again for educational and imaginative play.

We have completely refurbished the existing Prairie Panel display, where you see just how deep prairie roots are in the ground, and how important they are to the ecosystem. These roots are good at reaching water more than a meter deep, and can live for a very long time. The new exhibit includes a crank wheel, so you can “pull up” a prairie root, study the image, and see how deep they actually go. When you’re all done, crank the wheel again and reset the display for the next budding ecologist.

Our Ephemeral Pond area has been retrofitted with a beautiful series of images displaying the importance of these ponds, and the unique animals you’ll find in them. Also known as Vernal Ponds, they are a specific type of wetland that provide habitat for distinctive plants, amphibians, and insects. The unique features of our local ephemeral ponds make this updated display particularly interesting. After seeing the exhibit, go out and find a pond in the area around Heller. You’ll have a new appreciation for all of the visible and invisible life that is sustained there.

We call our large aquarium the Pondarium. It’s a fascinating exhibit that shows not only what you see above the water, but also what’s there to discover if you dig deep into the sediment of the pond floor. It’s a wonderful way for kids to learn that there’s so much more to nature than what’s visible on the surface… and that’s a good life lesson that extends far beyond the pond.

In addition to all of the new exhibits, and the changes made to existing ones, we’ve added a stunning new educational mural around the existing aquarium, and a hands-on learning table. We know you’ll enjoy seeing, touching, and interacting with everything when you visit.

This extensive renewal project has been carefully researched and thoughtfully designed to enhance your ecological experience and educate the community on the natural areas that surround us. We encourage all visitors—young and old alike—to take what they’ve learned indoors and recognize it outdoors as you hike through the wonderfully diverse and ever changing Heller Nature Center grounds each season. We look forward to welcoming you soon!