One of Portland’s best kept secrets, the World Forestry Center (WFC) and its discovery museum offer over 20,000 sq. ft. of interactive games, exhibits and simulations so visitors of all ages can explore the role of forests and trees throughout the world, their importance in our lives and the impacts of environmental sustainability.
Located in Washington Park, the WFC is a non-profit institution dedicated to educating visitors since 1964. In addition to the museum, the WFC also operates the World Forest Institute as well as two working tree farms. “We want people to come and learn about the forests,” explains WFC rep Jennifer Kent. “How do we make them sustainable? How do they impact our wildlife, our environment and our everyday lives?”
When my family and I arrived at the WFC, the first thing we noticed was the center’s famous locomotive, Peggy the Train. A massive 42-ton steam engine, Peggy hauled an estimated one billion logs over her 41-year career. Located under a large permanent shelter to the left of the discovery museum, my husband Erik, our four-year-old son Finn and I climbed aboard and explored Peggy’s cab, which was rebuilt in the early 1970s.
Then we headed inside the museum’s spacious two-story building, beautifully renovated in 2005. Past the foyer on your left are the gift shop and the admissions desk. We made sure to pick up a kid’s scavenger hunt for Finn. The center has two levels available, beginner and intermediate. Pick up copies at the desk before heading into the museum proper.
Focusing on the forests of the Pacific Northwest, the main floor is filled with fun, hands-on exhibits. In the center is a large forest display, including several life-size fir trees, vegetation, wildlife hideouts and more. There Erik, Finn and I loaded into a bright red raft for a simulated ride down the Clackamas River’s rapids.
Next my husband tested his virtual Smokejumper skills while Finn and I climbed inside the cab of a massive Timberjack Harvester. This sustainable logging truck can cut, strip and section a full-grown tree in minutes.
Other main floor highlights include a birds-eye view exhibit that lets you see the trees from a bird’s perspective, an interactive tree planting exhibit, an enormous 10-foot tree cookie cut from a 635-year-old Douglas Fir and a canopy lift ride that takes visitors 40 feet into the air to explore the top of the forest display.
When we were finished, we headed up to the second floor. Divided into two main sections, one half of the floor offers a series of permanent exhibits and simulations focusing on forests around the world. The other half hosts a rotation of special exhibits that explore art and cultural from around the world.
One of the first exhibits we encountered was titled Our World’s Forests. This fascinating map display also uses flip books, wooden artifacts and hands-on activities to highlight how forests are used around the world. My husband, son and I had a great time touching the wooden toys, playing the wooden instruments, smelling tree-derived spices and more.
Afterwards we checked out the museum’s four virtual tours, located behind the map exhibit. Each takes place in a different part of the world and features one of the world’s four forest types: boreal, temperate, sub-tropical and tropical. Three-year-old Finn especially enjoyed the sub-tropical forest tour, a simulated Jeep safari through Kruger National Park.
If time permits, be sure to check out the special exhibits area, included in the price of admission. The WFC also hosts a variety of events, speakers, fairs and workshops throughout the year, including crafts and story time on Mommy and Me Mondays (runs Nov.-Apr.) and Tree-Mendous Second Saturdays.
Another popular event is the annual ChocolateFest, held every January at the Oregon Convention Center. For after-hours fun without the kids, check out the Museum by Moonlight event series.
When you go:
World Forestry Center Discovery Museum
4033 SW Canyon Rd
Hours: 10am-5pm daily. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Admission: $9 adults; $8 ages 62 and older; $6 ages 3-18; free ages 0-2. Annual family membership starts at $50.00.
Special Events: Check the museum’s website for information on story times, workshops, field trips, educational programs, speakers, after hours and more.