The Welcome Plaza under construction in Skansie Park isn’t the only thing new in downtown Gig Harbor.
Changes have been made at Harbor WildWatch in the historic Skansie House, where a $25,000 grant from the Ben B. Cheney Foundation has provided funding for the organization to update and improve its educational displays.
As a result, Harbor WildWatch will re-open the Skansie Visitor Interpretative Center on March 2 in a partnership with the city of Gig Harbor and with support from visitor center volunteers, said executive director Lindsey Stover.
“The whole purpose of the grant is to upgrade our equipment,” Stover explained. “It’s basically been a huge upgrade in our technology.”
The technology added from the Cheney grant has provided more opportunities to engage students through interactive models, she said.
One such model is a new interactive sandbox that uses computer graphics and 3-D projector to display a topographical map on the sand in response to changes made by visitors.
“It’s basically a software system that puts a topographical map onto the sand,” Stover said.
A new 100-gallon acrylic touch tank will also be added to hold the invertebrate, allowing year-round, hands-on learning for children — and adults — who look forward to Harbor WildWatch’s summer touch tanks.
“This will be a complete system,” Stover said. “The kids will be able to touch things.”
The third and final educational area features a collection of animal skulls used in classroom demonstrations and on loan from NOAA — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — with the largest skull, and centerpiece of the display, a juvenile gray whale skull.
A multi-purpose area surrounds the display, which holds a space for microscopes or other hands-on activities. Two television screens are also featured in the Interpretative Center that can show footage from the Pier into the Night events or from the organization’s newest underwater camera that will be installed in Gig Harbor Bay.
“We’re able to collaborate with a company called View into the Blue,” explained Stena Troyer, science specialist with Harbor WildWatch. “We will be able to sink (the camera) down to the bottom and see what’s going on out in the Sound.”
Further technology additions to the center include three Microsoft Surface tablets that provide more interaction and information, helping to make the experience self-guided for those interested in spending some time learning about the Puget Sound.
Engaging and educating the Gig Harbor community and visitors to the area has always been the goal of Harbor WildWatch, Stover said, and the updates to the Interpretative Center further that mission by providing an interactive space for people to stop by and familiarize themselves with the area.
“When kids get excited about this stuff they always take it home,” Stover said. “This is designed to be a self-guided tour ... (to) give a little bit of insight to what we have right here in Puget Sound.”
The grand opening for the Skansie Visitor Interpretative Center will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 2 at the Skansie House in downtown Gig Harbor, located at 3207 Harborview Drive.
Winter Hours for Harbor WildWatch are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday to Saturday. The organization can be reached by phone at 253-514-0187 or online at harborwildwatch.org.