Wild Center opens for winter for first time, with night lights and outdoor otters

Derek Tepe, left, and Morgan Shaw check out the Wild Center’s Wild Lights exhibit it is running while staying open this winter. (Provided photo — Rick Godin)

TUPPER LAKE — The Wild Center will not go into hibernation for the winter this year.

The nature museum is staying open year-round now, according to Marketing Manager Nick Gunn. He said this is to bring year-round tourism to Tupper Lake and to financially assist the museum as it remains open during the coronavirus pandemic — outdoors and with fewer guests.

The Wild Center will stay open later into the night than usual on weekends, too, and is introducing Wild Lights, a winter night walk through the Forest Music trail and Wild Walk, where around 40,000 holiday lights have been strung around trees, creating a bright, colorful light display.

“The idea here is that this becomes a new tradition,” Gunn said.

He said the museum had never planned to stay open during the winter in years past, but that this year administrators believed it was important to stay open so staff could keep their jobs.

Derek Tepe, left, and Morgan Shaw walk through the Wild Center’s Wild Lights exhibit it is running while staying open this winter. (Provided photo — Rick Godin)

“We’re committed to Tupper Lake and to staying open,” Gunn said. “We know that when the Wild Center is open it drives people, not only here, but to restaurants and bars. It was really important to stay open to support the community.”

Just as in the summer, the museum will operate at a reduced capacity of 600 guests per day, with staggered timed reservations to avoid crowds gathering throughout the day.

The exhibits will be outdoors only, using the campus to provide the usual Wild Center experience in a different way. Warming tents and fire pits will be scattered around the property.

Regular 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours will continue with additional weekend night hours from 5 to 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays starting Dec. 11.

Wild Lights-only reservations are free for members, $10 for adults and $5 for youth.

Morgan Shaw, left, and Derek Tepe walk through the Wild Center’s Wild Lights exhibit it is running while staying open this winter. (Provided photo — Rick Godin)

“One of the silver linings of the whole last eight months has been the ability for us to be creative on how we are delivering on missions,” Gunn said. “This was mainly born out of the situation we find ourselves in.”

The Wild Lights walk though the Forest Music trail is sponsored by the Merrill L. Thomas Inc. real estate company and features 3,500 and 4,000 feet of lights and 30 minutes of new commissioned “wintery, magical music,” Gunn said.

He said the days will also have winter nature activities, with exhibits that are able to be moved outdoors.

The museum’s resident otters will have an outdoor play yard where they can frolic in the snow.

“One of the most enjoyable times to watch them is actually during the winter,” Gunn said. “They do this crazy thing where they run and slide on the bellies. It’s hysterical to watch them.”

A video posted on the Wild Center Facebook page Nov. 3 shows the otters excitedly rolling, sliding and burrowing in fresh snow.

Gunn said there will be free kicksled rentals and three loops to glide on. The sleds are provided by John Dimon at Human Power Planet Earth Bike Shop in Saranac Lake, and Gunn said people should get a “kick” out of taking them for a spin. This pun was allegedly unintentional.

There are snowshoes visitors can take anywhere on the trail system through the museum’s 150-acre property.

The elevated Wild Walk will be open, and there will be a snowball-throwing range and winter skeeball station.

Gunn said summer “couldn’t have gone better” considering the massive changes. He said a post-visit survey of visitors was positive in terms of safety and experience.

“This summer, all things considered, was really great for us,” Gunn said. “But with summer, as great as it went … capping it at a certain level (of reservations) … that obviously leaves you with a deficit.”

Gunn said the museum staff was at the same level as usual, and that they were running the same events and workshops, just outside. The museum also cut reservations by one-third, he said.

“When you look at the budget, there’s still a huge gap that we have to make up,” Gunn said.

The Wild Center had not budgeted for a pandemic, so he said it hopes to make up on what it lost during the summer over the winter.


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