Port Wonder: Newest LC attraction taking shape

Published 4:53 am Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Port Wonder, the unique building that will house the Children’s Museum of Southwest Louisiana and the new Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Nature and Science Center, is taking shape.

Allyson Montgomery, executive director, The Children’s Museum of SWLA, and Heather David, biologist manager, LDWF, gave a tour of the facility on Saturday to give a sneak peek of the exhibits and features.

This is a new chapter for the Children’s Museum, which has provided SWLA youth with educational programming and interactive experiences for 35 years. It will feature four galleries – Nature, Health, Tech and Cityscape – and include both sentimental and brand-new installations.

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The Nature Gallery will have multiple installations to teach children about local industries, floral and fauna.

Montgomery said that it will be a “honey I shrunk the kids experience” with oversized nature features. There will be a banana spider exhibition where guests can weave a web, an anthill climber and an interactive alligator’s nest.

The Sportsman’s Paradise section will allow kids to learn about local industries like fishing and crabbing. The gallery will have a vegetable pollinator garden and a water table that will teach the water cycle.

The senses and body systems will be on display in the Health Gallery. Multiple interactive exhibits will be installed to let guests explore the senses in a tactile way.

In the Health Gallery, a classic interactive will return, the Mr. Bones cycling exhibit. Children will bike alongside Mr. Bones to learn how bones move and work in the body. There will also be a digestive maze and a trampoline and heartbeat exhibit.

The Tech Gallery will include several bays of exhibits, such as a Tinker Lab that will feature new interactive STEM activities each week and will serve as a space for programming. This space will also have a chemistry area where students can learn about chemistry, as well as the processes and role of local industry.

In addition to a density column and simple machines exhibition, a large keystone arch installation will teach the importance of teamwork.

The Cityscape will be a miniature city for children. There will be a Lighthouse Climber, the Kid’s Port, Sunny’s Market, Cowboy’s Cafe, Safety Square, a News Station, Waterside Vet Clinic, Pujo Park and the Dance Hall.

Outside of the Children’s Museum will be an inclusive playground.

The Dance Hall, which will teach about Louisiana’s music history and provide a space for karaoke and dance, will be closed when Port Wonder opens. Montgomery said that they are currently looking for a funding partner.

The Children’s Museum will have baby and toddler space with soft play materials called Calcasieu Crawlers, and two nursing areas.

LDWF Nature and Science Center will highlight various local species and educate guests on the work that is done by LDWF, David said.

The Intro to Louisiana room will provide information on the various habitats that exist in Louisiana like the pelican, white-tail deer and whooping crane.

There will be multiple tank exhibits. The 1,500 gallon Bayou Tank will be the only freshwater aquarium and the 6,900 gallon Cameron Jetty Tank will feature brackish water species. The Nature and Science Center will also have a 4,000 gallon, 33-foot long touch tank with stingrays and non-native species.

The Barrier Island interactive will let users make waves and learn about the function of barrier islands.

There will also be exhibits to learn about the LDWF Rigs to Reef program and the job of marine biologists, a fishing game, a fish hatchery wall and an interactive microscope.

On the outside, there will be a fishing pier that is free to use.

Port Wonder will also feature a program hall with three classroom sections that can be rented out. Each space will be able to hold about 20 children comfortably, and they can be converted into one large area to hold 60. The space will have computer screens and a podium. In the space, meetings, classes and community events can be hosted.

Port Wonder is a 23,000 square foot, $23 million investment on Lake Charles’ Lakefront. The project was first announced in 2018, and was fully-funded in 2022 thanks to funding from both public and private sources.

Montgomery said that they plan to open Port Wonder in July or August of this year, before students go back to school.