Sunday, April 12, 2009

An Investment in the Future

Yesterday was the fourth in the five part series Celebrating Freshwater at Milwaukee’s Discovery World. The events have featured scientists from the Great Lakes Water Institute addressing issues concerning the Great Lakes. Yesterday Professor Sandra McClellan’s talk was titled “Why is the Beach Closed? And Other Issues Affecting the Shoreline.” Prof. McClellan spoke about pollution, primarily that resulting from sewage dumped into the lakes.

We learned where the fecal material comes from (not just cows, but birds and sometimes humans), why E. coli is a problem (because their presence indicates other, perhaps more harmful, contaminants) and what we can do about it (besides not swim when bacterial levels are high). Prof. McClellan was well spoken and informative. However, sewage is a less sexy topic than some of the others that have been addressed in the series, and for me, most of what she said was nothing new. Nonetheless, I was glad I attended and plan to attend the final session next week, too.

Part of the reason I was glad I went is that it is always a pleasure to be in a space as pleasant as the Discovery World. This structure, which opened last year, has huge windows opening onto Lake Michigan. It makes maximum use of natural lighting and the expansive lake views. In addition, the building is located right next to the Milwaukee’s Summerfest grounds and Lakeshore State Park, which is the only urban state park in Wisconsin.

My husband and I have been to Discovery World twice before the lecture series. The first time was just after it opened, and we were disappointed, as much of the space was still under construction. The second time was several months later when we had guests from out of town and we decided to try again. The exhibits were better but both times we felt the price tag was high. Yesterday we only went to attend the lecture so we didn’t have to pay the admission fee, which is a whopping $16.95 for an adult and a little less for children and students. That’s a hefty price to take a family for an afternoon’s outing.

Still, the place was filled with families and couples wandering around enjoying the exhibits. Discovery World is a unique museum. It is visual, hands-on and couldn’t be in a better location. To my knowledge, it is the only such museum with such a large exhibit focusing on the Great Lakes. My favorite part is the huge relief map of the Great Lakes Basin and the thunderstorm that periodically shows what happens to water in the basin.

One of the most important things that Professor McClellan said yesterday was that we need to educate our children about the importance of our freshwater coast and involve them in efforts to keep it clean. If I were to judge by the number of children at the museum yesterday, Discovery World will make a significant contribution to that education.

Perhaps I should think of that fee for a family of four to visit as more than just an admission fee. It is an investment in the future of something I care about a great deal. What's $60 bucks in the greater scheme of things?

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