Visitors of all ages will truly enjoy their time exploring the Delmarva Discovery Museum in Pocomoke
It’s just past 4 p.m. at the Delmarva Discovery Center, where river otters Mac and Tuck, inside their cozy stainless-steel kennel, leapfrog over each other like circus acrobats. They’re pushing their snouts through the metal cage and wagging their tongues – they know it’s feeding time.
The otters came to the museum 18 months ago and have been a hit with visitors. People love to watch the pair swimming and diving in their 6,000-gallon aquarium. They appear identical, but staffers here know how to tell the them apart, in appearance and personality. Mac used to be shy, but now he’s as outgoing as Tuck, the alpha male.
“Mac is a smidge darker and a teeny bit bigger,” said volunteer otter-keeper Rachelle Daigneault, who serves the otters a fishy snack. “Mac has the nose that looks like the Capitol building. It’s got a big spire, and it’s wider at the base. Tuck has a little button nose, a little triangle.”
Feeding time is also teaching time. Using a wand with a small sphere on the end, volunteer otter-keepers point the ball-end of the wand at each otter’s snout. If the otter keeps their nose on the ball, they will be rewarded for that learned behavior with a delicious bite of fish. But more important, learning to respond to commands comes in handy when trainers need otters to stand ramrod straight or open their mouths for a veterinarian’s examination.
The Wally Gordon River Otter Exhibit may be the star of the show at the Delmarva Discovery Center, located in downtown Pocomoke City, but the 16,000 sq. ft. museum has so much more to offer to the public about Delmarva’s historical and cultural heritage.
“This is a place where people who’ve lived here all of their lives can come in and see themselves represented in the stories that are told here,” said Daigneault, who is also on the board of directors. “Carving, shipbuilding – everything came from the land and the water. It was all about sustainability, and it’s just so rich. This needs to be a destination for people when they come to the Shore.”
The museum, now in its ninth year, actually got started two decades ago, when a group of Lower Shore residents sought to launch a new tourism attraction in Pocomoke City. Founders decided on a learning center of some sort, set on the banks of the Pocomoke River. They picked a long-empty car dealership on Market Street to rehabilitate for the museum’s new home.
“It’s been a labor of love,” said Lisa Challenger, a founding museum board member and Worcester County’s tourism director. “It took a lot of vision and a lot of naysayers. We have gradually made the Discovery Center better and better. When people go there, they tell us that they never expected anything that nice. And that’s what we like to hear. We keep trying to move forward, making it more interactive.”
Interactivity and hands-on exhibits are the lifeblood of a good museum, said museum president Stacey Weisner.
“If it’s not hands-on and interactive, people lose interest quickly,” she said. “It has to be feasible for multigenerational visits. You can come as a senior citizen or as a 4-year-old and truly enjoy yourself.”
Indeed, you can touch, feel and smell exhibits from start to finish in the self-guided museum. Visitors can sit inside a replica Native American wigwam, crawl through a beaver lodge and pilot a life-sized 19th-century riverboat. Especially popular with kids is the touch tank – a kind of petting zoo for sea creatures – filled with live clams, horseshoe crabs and whelk.
Authenticity is of paramount importance, Weisner said, for their Native American displays, which include a dugout canoe made just for the museum over nine summers by real Pocomoke tribesman. “You can see how they burned it and dug it out with oyster shells. You can put your hand in, feel it, smell the charred wood,” she said.
Weisner came on board three years ago from a successful fundraising role at the Salisbury Zoo. Here in Pocomoke, she continues to demonstrate this skillset: The museum has raised more than $1 million from public donations and private gifts under her leadership.
One such gift will yield a brand-new exhibit as the museum will soon begin work on an extensive display about farming and agriculture on the Shore, thanks in part to a $75,000 donation from Perdue Farms. The museum is also the recipient of the 2017 Henson Award by the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore as the area’s best nonprofit organization.
“We’re not afraid to say, ‘Is this a good idea?’” Weisner said of the center’s innovation. “We ask visitors all the time when they come in, ‘What did you like here? Is there something you would change, and if so, what would it be? What is the coolest place you’ve ever visited?’ Then we listen. We listen to the people.”
DELMARVA DISCOVERY MUSEUM
Open Monday-Saturday, 10-4, Sundays 12-4
Adults $10, students and seniors $8, youth and military $5
Free for kids 3 and under
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