Park officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday afternoon for the exhibit, which essentially encompasses the entire ramp in the nature center, from the first floor to the second floor.
The nature center has long had a bee exhibit at the corner of the ramp, but it was rather basic with a small beehive in a fake tree with an adjacent glass display on honeybee facts. Today, the entire ramp has been transformed from floor to ceiling into one giant honeycomb.
All along the walls of the ramp, you can now find trivia facts about honeybees; play with the interactive, hands-on components; and check out the educational displays about the anatomy of the honeybee, how honey is made, the life-cycle of a honeybee and the reasons behind the decline of the honeybee population.
Located outside the corner window are now two beehives, although at this time there are bees in only one. Once the bees get acclimated to their new home, the second hive will be filled. A movable magnifying glass is near the one with buzzing residents, so kids (and adults) can get a closer look at just what bees do on a daily basis.
On the outside, the park has built a viewing platform for the beehives, more educational displays, and sculpted flowers inside a small kids play area.
“I think it’s amazing,” said Park Manager Rob Cole. “In our modern park history, this is the first truly immersive interactive exhibit we have, and it certainly sets a standard for what all future exhibits need to reach for.”
The cost of the renovation and expansion was roughly $53,000 and took just over a year to complete from conception to the finished product. Nearly all of the work was done in-house by the park’s exhibit designers, Cole said, noting the level of detail done on the displays.
For example, each hair on the back of the large bee on the sign hanging over the ramp was individually inserted using a needle. A lot of care and attention to detail clearly went into the exhibit.
“We’ve had bees here for years, and adults and children love looking at them through the window, so we wanted to take this opportunity to focus on the bees because they’re important to the environment, to us and with pollination,” said Cassy Rose, exhibit designer and the person who proposed the design of the new exhibit. “We want to educate the public more about bees. How you don’t need to squash them. Just let them be.”
Improving Bays Mountain Park has been a priority for city leaders the past couple of years, with recent projects including adding additional parking, installing new carpet within the nature center, tying the park in with the city’s sewer system and replacing all of the mortar on the dam.
Kingsport allocated more than $2 million for park improvements two years ago, with the money earmarked for a master plan for new animal exhibits, the construction of an outdoor classroom, and nature center and planetarium upgrades. Other projects in the pipeline include a new entry gate and nature center gateway; repaving the entry road; renovating the picnic shelters and adding wayfinding signage in the park.
Now with the bee exhibit complete, Cole said park officials plan to set their sights on the area around the outside of the planetarium.