New Audubon Center Lets Kids’ Imaginations Take Flight
The art and interactive exhibits in the 18,000-square-foot addition make John James Audubon’s historic homestead a new tourist destination for those visiting nearby Valley Forge National Park, officials say.
A child watches for birds on Pawlings Porch outside of the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove in Audubon, Pennsylvania on June 4, 2019.
Photos by Colleen Claggett
The new $13 million John James Audubon Center opened today with an 18,000-square-foot museum at Mill Grove, an historic landmark in Aubudon, PA.
The center offers an expansive look into the native birds to which John James Audubon dedicated his life and work. In addition to housing $10 million worth of his paintings, it provides interactive and immersive activities to showcase Audubon’s passion for the education and conservation of North American birds. Because it offers indoor and outdoor exhibits, it is an ideal stop for a fun and educational day in any season or weather.
Children pose with the “Birds of America” display inside the new John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove in Audubon, Pennsylvania on June 4, 2019. (Photo by Colleen Claggett)
Family-friendly indoor activities include Bird Banding, where each visitor is assigned a color wristband that represents a native bird, similar to the way birds are banded for migration research. You can then follow the life of that bird from “egg to sky.” Sound Forests provides snippets of native bird calls at the press of a button and the conservation gallery promotes the protection of birds and their natural habitat.
"We are taking Audubon’s story and bringing it into a modern context,” says Jean Bochnowski, director of the John James Audubon Center.
The center also includes a small theater that shows a short film about Audubon’s life as well as other short conservation documentaries. In the lower level of the building, classrooms are available for schools field trips.
Outside, in addition to the five-mile stretch of nature trails at Mill Grove, the John James Audubon Center presents numerous kid-friendly activities. There is a sensory garden with native, bird-friendly plants; a build-your-own giant bird’s nest with pool noodles that mimic twigs, and a small dirt pit stocked with gloves, rakes and shovels. Be prepared to get dirty and don’t forget the wet wipes.
Children mill through soil and hunt for treasures on the Fledgling Trail outside of the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove in Audubon, Pennsylvania on June 4, 2019. (Photo by Colleen Claggett)
“The new John James Audubon Center will spark a new generation of artists, scientists and conservationists for many years to come,” says David J. Ringer, chief network officer of Audubon’s Board. “Birds are our messengers, they have a lot to tell us if we listen.”
The center was funded through a partnership between Montgomery County and the National Audubon Society. Its proximity to Valley Forge National Park make officials hopeful it will become a tourism destination for visitors from all over.
“Audubon is for everyone because birds are for everyone,” says Ringer.
Emma Kuliczkowski is a MetroKids intern and student at Temple University. Colleen Claggett is a photography intern at MetroKids and student at Temple University.