Fun was flowing Friday afternoon at Wise Wonders Children's Museum as the organization cut the ribbon on its newest exhibit, a 9-foot-by-19-foot interactive water display inspired by the Yellowstone River.
Before the ceremonial scissors were even brought to bear, young children were laughing and splashing along the water's edge, spinning water wheels, fishing with magnet-tipped fishing rods for magnet-mouthed fish and making rain fall from cloud-shaped sprinklers poised over a mountain display inspired by Yellowstone Falls.
"It's such an amazing exhibit," said Kelly McCandless, a Wise Wonders board member, as her 1-year-old and 5-year-old daughters explored the newest addition to the museum. "To see a donor come out and invest in something like this is just so important."
The donor McCandless was referring to is Dr. Pamela Templeton, an OB-GYN who moved to Billings from Indianapolis, home of the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, which is considered the largest museum of its kind in the world, Templeton said.
Templeton said her children grew up loving to play at a water table in that museum, which was part of her inspiration in selecting designs for the new exhibit.
She said the project is intended to support young families and the city of Billings. "I think Billings could use some more family things," she said.
Templeton had already contracted CTA Architects Engineers to build a house in Billings, so she turned to the business for ideas when she first began thinking about donating to the museum about a year ago.
Their help pointed her toward an Ohio-based display manufacturer, Boss Display Corporation. CTA also assisted with measurements and other logistical decisions for the display's installation, Templeton said.
Rubber floor mats surround the display, and smocks were available should parents hope to keep their children dry. Both were donated by Billings OB-GYN, said Kelli Toohill, executive director of Wise Wonders.
The display is interconnected but has three tiers of increasing elevation, which Toohill said is meant to signify which parts are more oriented toward younger or older children.
Most displays or exhibits at Wise Wonders allow a small number of children to use them at once and may not be very accessible to parents, Toohill said. The new water display could allow for 30 children to play at once and has opportunities for more adult interaction, Toohill said.
Asked why she thought the exhibit was fun, McCandless' 5-year-old daughter Rylie offered a more straightforward explanation of the display's value.
"I like the rain and just like the water," she said. "Because I have fun with them."