Vt. Museums Emphasize Outdoor Offerings as They Gradually Reopen

Several destinations are encouraging people to spend time outside — as a lasting lesson of COVID-19

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After outdoor activities found renewed interest during the COVID-19 pandemic, Vermont museums are increasingly emphasizing their outdoor offerings as they continue their gradual reopenings.

Dinosaur exhibits have roared into the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, where pandemic-era reservations and masks are still required, because so many guests just aren't old enough to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

In addition to those inside exhibitions, the Montshire is encouraging its visitors to also check out its large outdoor campus. It is home to new play and exploration areas, including giant blocks and water features.

"We have miles of nature trails, as well," noted Montshire spokeswoman Trish Palao.

The renewed emphasis is a lasting lesson from the past year or so, when we learned how the coronavirus rarely spreads outside.

"The outdoor experience here at the Montshire has always been a priority for us, but even more so now with the pandemic, we want to be sure we are offering even more experiences for people outside," Palao said.

At Shelburne Museum, the landmark's several dozen buildings are often the focus, but its gardens, an outdoor sculpture exhibition, and the open-air deck of the iconic Steamship Ticonderoga are expected to take on added appreciation this year with folks who still want to spread out.

"With children, being outdoors is ideal," Shelburne Museum visitor Meaghan Kennedy said in a recent interview with NECN affiliate NBC 5 News.

Shelburne Museum opened for the season last week.

"We've just spent almost 18 months training ourselves to avoid people and avoid spaces and situations, so I think there is a moment of reacclimating ourselves to just being around people — even outdoors," Shelburne Museum director Tom Denenberg said. "So there's something very comforting about the outdoors."

At Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington, tours are outdoors, and the windows and door to the home of one of Vermont's founders are opened wide every day to promote air flow, executive director Dan O'Neil said.

"I think we tend to live a much more interior life these days," O'Neil said in an interview Monday with NECN. "But I think over the past year and a half, we've really discovered how much you can do outdoors. And especially in the historic field, it's made us much more cognizant of how people who lived centuries ago spent most of their time outdoors."

O'Neil said the Ethan Allen Homestead is hoping for a busy season, as travelers and locals alike shake off cabin fever from the pandemic.

At the homestead, Shelburne Museum, the Montshire Museum of Science, and some other Vermont museums, the outdoors could well stay the "in thing" this summer.

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