Kids playing in the Unique Pines at The Wildl Center in Tupper Lake, NY

Kids playing in the Unique Pines at The Wildl Center in Tupper Lake, NY

DAY 3  (Tupper Lake, NY) — Who wants to get skunked?

The little boys’ hands shoot up.

“I really don’t think you do,” says the naturalist Chelsea.  “It’s nasty,” as she passes around a zip lock bag with some skunk scent in it. 

In front of us, two skunks named appropriately night and day are eating crickets in a cage; we had just gotten through watching two river otters named squirt and squeaker play, learning that river otters communicate through the scent of their poop.

The kids visiting the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, NY near Lake Placid thought that was hysterically funny.

But whether watching skunks or river otters, this place is more than about fun…it’s about teaching kids—and grownups–visiting the Adirondacks or living here to learn how to better coexist with the natural world.

Inside the expansive museum are interactive exhibits whether you want to open boxes of bones in the Naturalists Cabinet, mimic bird calls, take a stroll on the indoor Living River Trail past lakes, bogs, streams , rivers and waterfalls and forests to the summit of a high peak with more than 2,000 live creatures—frogs, fish and of course the Otters.

Exhibit at Wild Center in Tupper Lake, NY

Exhibit at Wild Center in Tupper Lake, NY

Sniff the smells of the Adirondacks like wintergreen; step on what it feels like to walk in a bog—“floating”

Planet Adirondack features an interactive Earth where you can see migrations of butterflies and frogs, the impact of climate change and weather systems.

Outdoors are nature trails. Kids especially love the Unique Pines—an outdoor play area made from trees (climb through a hollowed out log; climb up on the roots of a tree.  Hunt for bugs

As for the kids’ fascination with the otter poop, in case you are wondering, the naturalist explained that they may be signaling they are ready to find a mate; or they might be telling another otter where they are.

River Otter at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake, NY

River Otter at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake, NY

An otter or beaver can recognize each other by smell the way we could discern the difference between a dog and cat by sight.

The kids are thoroughly engaged—including Massou Traore , the 14 year-old girl from the Bronx we have with us, courtesy of The Fresh Air Fund.

The idea, says Meadow Hackett, a college student who has been working at the center since it opened in 2006, is to help people be able to interpret what they see when they get outside in the Adirondacks.  After families explore the museum, she explained, she can lead them on a canoe trip on the river here to have a better understanding; in winter, you can borrow snowshoes at no charge

Did you know the Adirondacks are bigger than Yosemite, Glacier, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and the Great Smokey National Parks combined?

There’s a lot to see—and learn here—and The Wildland Center set on a 31 acre site that was reclaimed land from a sand quarry is a good place to start.  There are more than 900 animals here—lake fish, porcupines, ravens, red tailed hawks.

The place is so popular—it gets 60,000-70,000 visitors a year—that a big expansion with more outdoor experiences is planned for the summer of 2015.  Even today, you can take  go to the Oxbow Overlooks to discover the wildlife and birds; join a naturalist led hike  or watch the butterflies in the butterfly garden after seeing  the excellent film the Flight of the Butterflies.

The Wild Center also has new interpretive exhibits on Veteran’s Memorial Highway, the toll road up to the summit of Whiteface Mountain and at the top as well.

Today, the 10,000 square miles of the Adirondacks are wilder in many ways than they were 100 years ago as the area is once again covered in wild forests  because environmentalists convinced NYC voters to amend the state constitution to protect the region. 

We’re certainly glad they have.