News Room | Durham Museum "Climbing Higher" with $3.9 Million Dollar Expansion

Hideaway Woods - Museum of Life and Science

Durham Museum "Climbing Higher" with $3.9 Million Dollar Expansion

Community partners join Museum campaign in support of new nature-based playscapes and outdoor learning environments



Contact: Leslie Pepple, Communications Manager
(919) 922-5367;





Durham, NC - February 2014


Museum of Life and Science President and CEO Barry Van Deman announced today plans for a $3.9 million dollar initiative to build two new outdoor learning environments on the Museum's 84-acre campus. Known for innovative hands-on exhibits and unique natural environments, the Museum says its latest expansions are designed to unlock the wonder of the natural world for children and their families with a two-acre nature-based playscape, Hideaway Woods and an interactive approach to Earth sciences, Earth Moves.


The most ambitious campaign in the Museum's history, the $3.9 million dollar project will bring families together to play and learn in a unique outdoor environment unlike any other in the state. "We are creating a one-of-a-kind place that encourages children's playful exploration of nature, physical activity, and keeps alive a child's sense of wonder," stated Van Deman. We believe children and their parents should have a safe, natural and wonder-filled place to come where they are free to explore, climb, crawl and use their imaginations." 


About Climbing Higher Campaign

Co-chaired by civic leaders Dr. Larry Crane, Liz Goodmon and Kenneth W. Lewis, Climbing Higher has been met with enthusiasm and support by community partners including Durham County; commissioners approved a lead gift of $500,000 to the campaign. 


The campaign has also received unanimous support from the Museum's Board of Directors, who together have pledged 10% of the total goal with several gifts of $100,000 or more. "It's an exciting next step in a rich history of growht for the Museum," remarked SunTrust Executive Tracey Martin, President of the Museum's Board of Directors. "We have an outstanding team of volunteer leaders, exhibit developers and visionary donors who are coming together to bring this project to life." 


Hideaway Woods - Opening in summer 2015, this two-acre nature-based playscape will be located in the wooded area encircled by the Museum's Ellerbe Creek Railway tracks and will feature outdoor experiences designed to encourage movement, exploration and skill development. Highlights include:

  • Tree House Villages suspended 15 to 20 feet off the ground. Children will climb high among the trees, crisscross between tree houses on suspended bridges and see nature from a different point of view; an additional set of structures six to eight feet off the ground and a playscape of ramps, elevated platforms and swinging bridges will be available for younger explorers or others choosing to stay closer to the ground.

  • Living twig and sapling structures designed by artist Patrick Dougherty for hands-on imaginative play. These amazing sculptures invite exploration and rousing games of hide-and-seek. The main body of this area will be designed over a mulch base that is playground approved and ADA compliant so children of all ages and abilities can enjoy the space.

  • Play space dedicated to the Museum's youngest visitors - those 18 months to age five - with activities ranging from building exercises to low log steppers for climbing. Designed to be increasingly challenging, this space encourages children to practice and improve over the course of a single or multiple visits.

Earth Moves - Opening in 2016, this new experience will immerse visitors in Earth sciences where you can experience how the Earth moves by natural forces and human interaction. This new experience will be located across from the Into the Mist exhibit in the Catch the Wind area of the Museum's outdoor campus. Highlights include:

  • Large scale digger pit with full-size excavators, modified for safe operation by families and children. Visitors are invited to take control of and experience the physics of moving massive amounts of earth with simple machines.

  • Earthquake platform that challenges visitors to build structures that can survive simulated seismic activity; foam blocks will be available to create "buildings" on a platform which visitors can trigger to activate movement. Guests will also be able to stand on the platform to experience what a tremor might feel like while controlling their quake's intensity and degrees of magnitude.

  • Free-standing waterfall which will showcase the physical properties of water and provide insight into how groundwater flows into an aquifer. In addition to learning about water's movement and force, the waterfall will be the perfect place for visitors to cool off during hot summer days.


Additional information regarding the Climbing Higher campaign including complete project renderings can be found at: