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Discovery Station expands curiosity

September 19, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

The newest addition to Washington County's inventory of museums isn't a museum in the traditional sense, according to its president, B. Marie Byers.

Sure, there's museum-like things, including a display on the history of aviation in Hagerstown and a gallery focusing on the inner workings of the eye, but those things are a mere fraction of what the Discovery Station at Hagerstown is about.

"The mission is really to expand people's curiosity about learning about different things," said Byers, a former elementary school teacher who served on the Washington County Board of Education. "There's nothing like this in the Tri-State area, in a 45-mile radius."

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The Discovery Station opened at 101 W. Washington St. in Hagerstown in May with a mixture of things to see and to interact with, emphasis placed on the latter rather than the former. Inside the Nicodemus bank building, Discovery Station gives visitors the opportunity to learn about the animal kingdom, dig for dinosaur bones and travel the globe at the push of a button.

Byers said that while there are plenty of exhibits at Discovery Station designed specifically for children, including the Betty Clopper Early Childhood Gallery featuring different puzzles and games, she hopes Discovery Station will stimulate learning and imagination in even grown-up children.

"That's what it's all about ... we have lots of folks of all ages here and they're enjoying themselves," she said. "It's been a work of passion. We set a goal and we're really reaching the goal."

Proving the point, a group of retired teachers from Williamsport and Clear Spring on hand for the opening day of the museum, after playing with several of the station's interactive exhibits, applied to volunteer and remain active with the organization.

One of the more popular exhibits, or at least one of the more imposing, is the cast of a triceratops fossil found on a dig in North Dakota. With empty eye sockets that gaze vacantly but somehow intensely at onlookers from above, the cast conjures up images of a time long gone.

"Let me tell you a bit about him, he's pretty interesting," Byers said of the three-horned dinosaur as though it lived and breathed inside Discovery Station. "As he grinds his teeth down, they fall out, and as they fall out, he grows new ones.

"I think they're a fascinating creation of historic time. Dinosaurs are just an interesting creation, a creature really, that walked the Earth in prehistoric times. We're interested in the future, in space, and at the same time, we're interested in the past."

First National Bank of Maryland operated out of the Nicodemus building for years before it became Allfirst, which then merged with M&T. The building served as an M&T branch for a few months before closing in 2003.

Rather than glossing over the building's history, Discovery Station embraces it prominently with a large bank vault on the first floor. Instead of currency, the cavernous vault now holds a series of equally eye-catching fossils and glittering geodes.

Some of the bank's heavier and more antiquated equipment can be found on the second floor of the museum. That includes a pair of machines just smaller than the triceratops cast used for generating bank correspondence.

In addition to its stationary exhibits, Discovery Station holds presentations once a month as part of its Saturday Plus program. For instance, on Sept. 10, the program featured a piano-playing Scottish terrier. On Dec. 3, retired CIA spy Anthony Mendez is scheduled to speak about his experiences with the clandestine organization.

Byers said while the nonprofit organization was able to bring many things together for its spring 2005 opening, there still are several projects in the works, including an area highlighting the different museums in the region and another display featuring transportation and Mack Trucks.

In August, the Washington County Gaming Commission awarded the station $25,000 to host a traveling display on women's health.

After passing through the Tooth and Nutrition Gallery, visitors are welcome to stop by the Explorer Cafe for a snack, then head to the Treasure Gift Shoppe for a variety of souvenirs, including an ant farm and, of course, Harry Potter memorabilia.

Byers said that while Discovery Station depends upon outside funding, she hopes for more funding in the future to bring a pair of dinosaurs, including a velociraptor and a nodosaurus, to the station to join the resident triceratops.

Operated on a volunteer basis, the station is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and, except for August, Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. It is closed on Mondays. Admission is $6 for children between the ages of 2 and 17, $7 for adults, $5 for senior citizens and members of the military, and free for children younger than 2. Group rates are available and Discovery Station hosts birthday parties by reservation.

Volunteers are needed to work in three-hour shifts from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Donations are sought to help fund programming at the museum.

For more information, call 301-790-0076 or visit the Discovery Station's Web site at www.discoverystation.org.

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