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Caribou’s Nylander Museum opens again after pandemic closure

CARIBOU, Maine — The Nylander Museum of Natural History reopened Saturday after being closed since mid-March due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 

At first, the museum will only be open weekends from 1 to 3 p.m. through August, after which adjustments will be made based on the status of the virus, according to Gail Hagelstein of the Nylander Museum Board. 

As with the Caribou Public Library, masks and hand sanitizer will be required and provided at each entrance of the building. Doors will remain open to improve air circulation and a plexiglass will be up at the desk in the lobby to protect volunteers.

Hagelstein said everything at the museum is either under glass, put away, or accompanied by a “do not touch” sign. If any visitors want to sit down and read one of the books at the museum, they can do so, however the book will be put away downstairs for 14 days afterward. 

“The museum does look a bit different because there aren’t many touchable items,” she said.  “Those who are tactile or want to touch things are going to have to wait a bit.”

In the past, the museum has typically hosted week or two-week long themed events focused on dinosaurs, bugs and other natural phenomena, however, due to the limited hours Hagelstein said the board has considered extending these events into one month. And instead of making projects and crafts centered around the theme at the museum, children and guests will be able to take items so they can work on the activities at home. 

Additionally, the museum recently hired Jonathan McEndarfer through the AmeriCorps VISTA program on July 6.

“I’ve always enjoyed the Nylander Museum and I would come here often during high school,” McEndarfer said. “So when I saw the job opening on Facebook I thought it would be a nice opportunity to contribute more to the museum and the community.”

As the museum prepares to open to the public, McEndarfer has been working to ensure safety precautions are in place as a result of COVID-19. He is also restoring an herb garden at the museum so guests can learn more about common plants and how they are used in food and medicine. 

McEndarfer said he was looking forward to the Saturday reopening and meeting new people while continuing to offer this service to the public.

“We are planning activities and projects as we continue,” McEndarfer said. “This whole COVID situation has thrown a wrench in the system for everybody. The museum hopes to be ready to continue community and develop outreach programs for local schools and any individuals.”

Hagelstein commended both the Caribou Parks and Recreation Department and the Caribou Public Library for helping the museum prepare for their reopening. 

“[Caribou Parks and Recreation Superintendent Gary Marquis] and his crew were in front of the museum yesterday,” she said. “They cut back the cedar and cherry trees and pulled out huge juniper bushes. It looks so much better; there really is a building behind all that greenery.”

Hagelstein said she’s anticipating the reopening, especially after building up momentum and excitement for events. Just a month before closing, the museum held a “Dino Days” event for a week in February that attracted about 350 visitors.

“We’re excited to open again and to have people come through,” she said. “A museum isn’t a museum if no one is coming to visit. Jonathan wants to make exhibits and displays more interactive and has some good ideas on how to get kids more involved when they come. We’re just trying to do what we’ve been doing for the last few years, but in a way that keeps everyone safe.”

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