Experience a Natural Forest
Featuring a model tree with a 7-foot diameter that reaches 16-feet high to the ceiling, as well as several trees from the surrounding woods, VINS has created an immersive experience highlighting the sights, sounds, and even smells of a natural forest. Visitors can walk into an imaginatively designed space that makes them feel as if they are in an indoor forest, complete with birdsong. With stairs and large tree branch walkways, one can climb inside the gigantic model tree and discover the diverse world of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians that call the New England forests home. In addition, visitors can encounter playful murals displaying various forest inhabitants on the surrounding walls.
The planning process of the indoor forest began at the end of 2015, but actually took shape in early 2016 when the design team started envisioning how an approximately 500-square-foot space could be utilized to its fullest. Since the room has a sloping, high ceiling, the team wanted to get visitors up into the trees for a different perspective. Working with a local builder and wood master, Richard Thompson of Sunrise Woodworks, VINS staff designed the space to have stairs leading up into the enormous model tree. The stairs then continue on to allow for observations into the neighboring forest from an outdoor deck, nine feet above the ground.
The model tree was framed using traditional methods, but the bark of the tree was anything but traditional. Another local builder Jeff Potter, and his daughter Kalyn, artfully formed the furrowed bark by using spray foam, so that it could be painted to add dimension to the tree. The result is spectacular and arresting as one first enters the exhibit space.
Created by artist Kathy Detzer, with the help of VINS staff, the mural on the walls has a landscape that extends beyond the vertical walls of the exhibit. Kathy used her skills and creativity to paint a multitude of trees and forest inhabitants. All told, there are 20 birds, 14 mammals, two reptiles, two amphibians, and three insect species for visitors to find, identify, and peek at through the knot-holes inside the trunk of the tree.
Inside the Tree
Upstairs, inside of the tree, visitors can touch and hold a real moose antler and hoof, and investigate a porcupine’s quills. In addition, four different forest scents can be smelled through a clever mechanism – by squeezing air over an oil-soaked cotton swab, and allowing the scent of a white pine or birch tree waft toward your nose. On the upstairs floor, visitors can also find out how old our tree is by counting the rings.
The Wheel of Succession provides visitors the opportunity to spin a giant wheel and observe how forests change over time. Through the process of succession, from initial disturbance by weather to the mature growth of a hardwood forest, one can imagine how the New England landscape has been altered both on a small and large scale. Next to the Wheel, “Fox-O Plinko” is a foraging game that invites visitors to try their hand at hunting like a Gray Fox and gathering enough food points to survive through the winter. Drop a ping-pong ball in through the top and watch it bounce down the wood pegs—will it land on the juicy rabbit? Or just a bunch of grapes?
Additionally, visitors can learn to identify trees by using paper to make a leaf rubbing or engaging with the spinning leaves in the entry hall. There also are five logs to feel and discover the differences between the bark of some common species of trees.
Our new exhibit is where one could experience an indoor forest that transitions directly into the outdoor forest. In the outdoor “yard,” amidst the dappled sunlight created by the real Vermont forest, visitors can explore their creative side by building with tree cookies (horizontal slices of trees). Make a home for a small forest-dwelling animal, a towering castle, or a grand monument.