Columbus County, two hours due south of Raleigh in a rural, underemployed region of North Carolina, might seem an unlikely place for a satellite of the state Museum of Natural Sciences. But that’s exactly why it has become home to its own museum branch.
The wise strategy of the state museum is to reach out to rural areas and in particular to the children of those regions to give them a taste of science, a chance to share in the wondrous world of the spectacular museum in downtown Raleigh.
The facility in Whiteville has some exhibits, but the focus is on activities for children, from Discovery Forest for kids 7 and under to a fossil lab to a Naturalist Center, where kids can touch and see furs and bones and shells and look through microscopes. (It’s one of the Raleigh museum’s most popular places for young visitors.)
The Whiteville museum is supposed to be hands on, says Liz Baird, the museum’s enthusiastic director of education. Youngsters can see in the museum things akin to what they’ve find in their own backyards or in the open spaces in parts of North Carolina where fields abound.
The ambition of Emlyn Koster, the museum’s director, is for other communities in the state to find space for their own branches of the museum. “That,” he said, “would be the ace in the pack.”
Yes, that’s it exactly, as that young child who lives without the experience of having a museum within reach might feel a spark that would lead him or her to the goal of being a scientist, or to a grander world of learning.
About 75 percent of public school children in Columbus County are poor enough to receive free or reduced-prices school lunches. Unemployment is too high, and the region is isolated.
But now it is home to part of North Carolina’s much-praised Museum of Natural Sciences. That is a victory.