Fernbank Museum of Natural History

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A true “learning adventure” the Fernbank Museum of Natural History is so much more than just another stuffy building filled with old stuff. This museum goes “big” all the way offering a massive modern building, displaying some of the largest dinosaurs ever discovered, and screening films in the largest IMAX Theatre in the state. Combine these features with its award-winning, often hands-on exhibits and the Fernbank Museum proves to be one of Atlanta’s premier destinations for both adults interested in natural history as well as children of all ages.

History

The idea for a museum to present the natural wonder of the eastern part of the city of Atlanta was conceived by a young woman named Emily Harrison who grew up in the area east of Atlanta which she coined “Fernbank” in the 19th century. A passionate educator who dreamed of preserving the pristine woods of her childhood for generations to come, Harrison worked throughout her life for the land, eventually acquiring a charter for “Fernbank” in 1938 that would preserve 70 acres of its forest. Managed by trustees, the Fernbank area remained undeveloped throughout the first 50 years of its history, however the dream of Emily Harrison to create a “school in the woods for nature study” weighed heavily on their minds.

In an effort to fulfill Emily’s dream, the trustees designated a master planning commission to look at the Fernbank area in the 1980s and the result was a design for a world-class natural history museum that literally grew out of the forest to become an educational destination. However, the trustees were also acutely aware of the need for conservation, reserving some 65 acres of forest as protected land which now represents one of the largest urban-located Piedmont forests in the United States.

The 160,000 square foot building of the Fernbank Natural History Museum was designed by the Cambridge, MA-based Graham Gund Architects. It includes a massive glass-enclosed atrium that provides spectacular views of Fernbank Forrest. Building the museum commenced in 1989, and a lavish grand opening occurred on 5 October 1992. Since that time, over half a million people annually visit the Fernbank Natural History Museum making it one of the Atlanta area’s top cultural attractions. In addition, the dedication of the Fernbank Trustees to continue Emily Harrison’s educational mission has been infused into every major project and exhibit that the museum offers.

Today, highlights of the museum include a skeletal reconstruction of the Argentinosaurus, the largest dinosaur yet classified, the Walk Through Time in Georgia exhibit which is renowned for its two-sided story of the development of the state itself while also reviewing the history of the planet, and the 72-foot screen of its IMAX Theatre. However, the most popular attraction at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History is, hands down, the award-winning NatureQuest exhibit. Designed by the ThinkWell Group and debuting in 2011, this interactive children’s area is designed with the 21st century child in mind. Featuring a multi-level club house, hands-on learning opportunities, and a totally immersive experience, children become scientists in the field, learning about the complexities of nature in a fun role-playing manner. Winning the prestigious Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement for a Museum Exhibit in 2012, NatureQuest is family-friendly, offering options for children of all ages and ability levels.

Main Attraction

As the immense size of the Fernbank Museum of Natural History suggests, there is a lot to do on a visit to this top Atlanta attraction. Located in the eastern part of the city, near Emory University, at 767 Clifton Road, NE, it is open 7 days a week and only closes on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Admission to the Fernbank Museum of Natural History is offered for adults (18+), seniors (62+), students (13-18), and youth (3-12). IMAX tickets are an additional charge, though several combination packages are also available. In addition to its daily operations, Fernbank also offers a number of special programs including the popular Friday night adult series, Martinis & IMAX, as well as children’s parties and camps, and lectures and events for all ages. They also feature extensive educator-oriented materials and presentations, preview days, and learning opportunities. Not surprisingly, a trip to Fernbank is among the most popular field trip options for Atlanta-area youth.

In order to keep with the technology of the 21st century, Fernbank offers a free app, The Fernbank Meridian app, that will help visitors navigate the museum’s exhibits and enhance your overall experience. There are also education team-led tours of the Fernbank Forest Preserve and self-guided tour options in the parks near the museum on the Fernbank property. A gift shop and museum café are also located on the premises.

Why It’s a Must-See

There are few options for a day of fun that also include a deep, modern opportunity to learn about the natural world. Part educational center, part nature preserve, the Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s mission is to “inspire life-long learning of natural history through immersive programming and unmatched experiences to encourage a greater appreciation of our planet and its inhabitants” something that they clearly deliver upon and something that makes this attraction one of Atlanta’s very best.