Dinosaur discovery

Children and dinosaurs happily co-exist at this Kiwanis-funded adventure park.

Story by Cindy Dashnaw • Photos by Allison Lee Isley 

A new kind of dinosaur has been discovered in North Carolina: the Kiwanisaurus.

OK, it’s not a real dinosaur. But Kiwanians have certainly made dinosaurs rule again —  by funding a high-touch, low-tech outdoor exhibit called the Kiwanisaurus Treehouse Adventure at the Greensboro Science Center.

Last fall, the Kiwanis Club of Greensboro and the Greensboro Nat Greene Kiwanis Club were looking for a way to celebrate their centennials, says Dixon Johnston, president-elect of the former club.

“We wanted something that would benefit kids, generate positive media coverage for Kiwanis and be long-lasting. The Greensboro Science Center met all our criteria. They’re the biggest and most successful organization in our area by far.”

Kids race through the entrance to the Kiwanisaurus Treehouse Adventure at the Greensboro Science Center on Friday, Apr. 30, 2021, in Greensboro, N.C.

Johnston’s club had already sponsored the augmented-reality (AR) “Kiwanis Keeper on Call” program inside the center. Using cell phones, visitors can see and hear dinosaur “keepers” talk about the prehistoric animals in their care. 

A new outdoor exhibit would complement the AR exhibit, along with an existing outdoor space called Skywild Treetop Adventure, an aerial obstacle course for ages 8 and up.  

“The center wanted something the littlest kids can do,” Johnston says. “We didn’t envision a treehouse at the time. We thought it was going to be a park.” 

Instead, the adventure is an enticing mixture of four treehouses and four crow’s nests, all linked by steps to climb up, slides to slip down, rope nets to scale, hoops to crawl through and swinging wooden bridges to cross (all safely, of course).

But … are there dinosaurs?

“Of course there are dinosaurs!” says Martha Regester, the science center’s vice president of education. “We have four nearly life-sized, full-color dinosaurs: a Brachiosaurus, a Spinosaurus, a Triceratops and, of course, a Tyrannosaurus rex.”

A Spinosaurus guards the Kiwanisaurus Treehouse Adventure at the Greensboro Science Center on Friday, Apr. 30, 2021, in Greensboro, N.C.

The dinosaur replicas loom beneath the walkways, giving kids an eyeball-to-eyeball encounter with the prehistoric past. 

And though “Kiwanisaurus” sounds like a real dinosaur species, it’s just a name that Johnston created to reflect Kiwanians’ long-term commitment.

To raise the needed funds, the two clubs conducted a capital campaign that included a Kiwanisaurus lapel pin manufactured just for this effort. 

“We reached out to our members and asked them to donate US$2,000 to get a Kiwanisaurus pin that shows they took an extra step,” Johnston says. “About a third of our donors did so, and very few gave less than $1,000.”

Regester wasn’t surprised that Kiwanians came through.

“They’ve always had a big interest in children’s education here at the science center,” she says. “We’re privately run, so we rely on our community to visit us and to support our vision. We couldn’t do what we do without Kiwanians sharing some of that vision.”

Sammy Lane, 6, navigates through the hoops of a net climbing structure in the Kiwanisaurus Treehouse Adventure at the Greensboro Science Center on Friday, Apr. 30, 2021, in Greensboro, N.C.

To keep such vision alive in the future, both Kiwanis clubs are targeting younger people as potential members. 

“All service clubs are victims of the changes in our society,” Johnston says. “It used to be that companies encouraged employees to join a service club and even subsidized their membership. They don’t do that much anymore, and today everybody is trying to get five things done at once and can’t find the time to join. 

“We’ve done outreach at the college level, to students who might be interested when they graduate. We also focus on people later in their career, and then on retirees too.”

Kiwanians of all ages will have plenty of chances to help in the future. Already, the science center has added an aquarium, a virtual gymnasium and a world-class zoo with conservation and research.

“The science center is projecting 600,000 visitors this year, and it won’t be long before they’re seeing a million visitors every year,” Johnston says. “We should have a long partnership.”

Catherine Lane gives a boost to her son, Reid Lane, 3, enabling him to peer inside the mouth of a Triceratops at the Kiwanisaurus Treehouse Adventure at the Greensboro Science Center on Friday, Apr. 30, 2021, in Greensboro, N.C.

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