Kids can go with the flow at Hickory museum exhibit

Move the rain cloud over the terrain map in the “3D Watershed Model” to see how the rain lands on mountaintops. hills and rivers and watch where it goes.
Move the rain cloud over the terrain map in the “3D Watershed Model” to see how the rain lands on mountaintops. hills and rivers and watch where it goes. Gary Hodges Photography

Strip away the big words, and ecology is “What goes around comes around.” These days, the negative implications of that are coming out of the faucets in Flint, Mich., where a dangerously contaminated watershed has become a national scandal.

People in the Carolinas are also concerned about their water, whether it’s the massive coal ash spill from the Dan River or the quality of what comes out of urban wells.

But can you get kids to engage with the flow of issues and information?

The Catawba Science Center’s featured exhibition, “Ocean Bound,” focuses on the problems and opportunities in an engaging and fun way. The thrust of the show, which continues through May 15 at the Hickory museum, is exploring the movement of water from the creeks to the sea.

The showstopper at “Ocean Bound” – created by the Sciencencenter of Ithaca, N.Y., with funding from the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – is a mockup of a full-size submarine chamber: Youngsters can go inside it and take an underwater voyage from streams and rivers to estuaries and the sea. Looking out through the large window of their “submersible,” they’ll see projected images of the changing array of different animals and plants they would see on such a trip – water snakes, turtles, fish and more – as well as benchmarks of water quality and evidence of various pollutants.

They control the speed at which they move, and can even change direction and head back upstream.

Also cool: The interactive “3D Watershed Model.” It’s a plexiglass unit that contains a raised-terrain landscape that goes from the upcountry toward the coast. Over it is a rain cloud. You can see see how the rain lands on mountaintops and watch where it goes. You can move the cloud over the “enviroscape” to see how it changes where the water lands.

The “Storm Drain Ball Machine” is a pinball-like unit retooled for environmental purposes: Launch the pollutant ball, see how it hits bumpers labeled with various pollutants; use the flippers to divert the balls from the “Freshwater Areas.”

Several plexiglass tubes are filled with colored liquid and different types of common litter and pollutants. Turn a dial and the tubes flip over: See what floats and what remains hidden.

Learn how to balance water use via beanbags and weights that compare average rainfall with average water used for washing a car, taking a shower, watering a lawn, doing laundry, etc.

The story of river otters – once nearly endangered in North America – is told through a video that explains the species’ revival. (Also at CSC’s naturalist center, you can touch a river otter pelt and see a mounted river otter.)

A localizing touch is, at the exhibit entrance, a large map of North Carolina showing water basins and watersheds, as well as information about the Catawba River basin – which starts in the Blue Ridge Mountains, passes through metro Charlotte and continues into South Carolina.

John Bordsen: 704-358-5251

Want to go?

The Catawba Science Center is at 243 Third Ave. NE (on the SALT Block) in Hickory. Admission to “Ocean Bound” is $1 in addition to regular admission. $8, $5 for ages 3-18 and 62 and older. Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, 1-4 p.m. Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday.

From Charlotte, take Interstate 85 South to Gastonia Exit 17; take U.S. 321 North to the Hickory area; at Exit 42, continue north on N.C. 127 North, which becomes 2nd Street Drive. Turn right at Second Avenue NE; then left onto 3rd Street NE; then left onto Third Avenue NE.