Heritage Museum Plans Roadwork, Aerial Exhbit in Sandwich

The Dexter rhododendrons at Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich.

The Dexter rhododendrons at Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich.

SANDWICH – Plans are underway at Heritage Museums and Gardens to reconfigure roads in the area, straightening several hundred feet of Grove and Shawme Roads.

Also planned at the Museum is what Heritage Museums and Gardens President and CEO Ellen Spear called “an aerial adventure experience” exhibit complete with a zip line and rope bridge among other attractions.

Museum officials are hoping both road changes and the new aerial exhibit will be completed by next Memorial Day.

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Spear said, the aerial exhibit will be an expansion of Hidden Hollow, the new children’s play area the museum installed in 2011. Hidden Hollow was designed for children from babies to age 8 or 9.

“Parents have said to us, this is such a great feature, what can you do so we can continue our children’s interest to learn about the outdoors for older kids,” she said.

The aerial adventure exhibit will feature five different levels of exploration of the outdoors in the area of the Heritage property where Charles Dexter hybridized his rhododendrons so children can learn about that part of Heritage, Spear said.

In the trees, from about 15 feet off the ground to 50 feet off the ground will be a variety of elements so that the visitor starts on a platform and chooses the course level and go from platform to platform in a safety harness.

For example, Spear said, the first element might be walking on logs that are suspended on wires and are moving around. The visitor has to make it from one tree to another.

The next element might be a cargo net that the visitor crawls through. Another element might be a short 30-foot zipline. And then there might be round pieces of wood that are tippy that have to be crossed.

“These are a variety of elements that get you up in the trees. When you’re looking down, you get a new perspective on the landscape, the rolling topography, the wonderful kettle holes unique to Cape Cod, our great hydrangeas and rhododendrons and the incredible forest floor. There will be interpretation up in the trees. The families will do this together and learn about our natural world in a very different way,” she said.

There will also be new walking paths installed in that area with interpretive signage.

Heritage is in partnership with another company to build and operate the aerial exhibit. The business relationship has been worked out over the past year, she said.

The museum’s board and staff visited similar exhibits to ensure the aerial feature would match the tranquil, quiet and nature-based experience the museum is known for, she said. “That was very much on our minds,” she said.

“What we’re excited about is it’s an extension of the character of Heritage. What families know and love about us is that it’s a quiet and peaceful experience and we wanted to create something that was an extension of that experience and that continues the high quality that Heritage has come to be known for, within the context of a very beautiful and tranquil and verdant garden,” she said.

Spear declined to answer a question on what the exhibit will cost. “When we get into construction we’ll have a better handle on that and we’ll certainly know at the end of the project,” she said.

She said the museum has been working with town officials on approvals for the aerial exhibit for the past year and had received all the necessary approvals, including the Sandwich Historic Committee.

“We were as concerned as they were that this would meet the historic character of the town and exceed those standards and would not detract from the character of the town at all,” she said.

The aerial exhibit will have an additional charge for admission over and above the museum’s general admission, she said. The exhibit will be for ages 8 and above.

Spear said there have been a number of meetings over the course of the past year for the public and neighbors to learn about the projects. This past Wednesday, the museum invited neighbors to a community meeting to hear about the road project.

“We are at the point where we have enough draft information before we submit things to the town formally to get neighborhood input,” she said.

Some neighbors have expressed concern with the aerial exhibit. Spear said, “We really welcome the opportunity to have a dialogue with them,” she said. “We’ve always been good neighbors. We’ve wanted to be good neighbors and it’s great to have an opportunity to get neighborhood feedback.”

She said that as far as the road project is concerned, it is early in the project and neighbors suggestions can be incorporated.

“We heard a lot of really good ideas. As we move forward with the road plan and work with the town, we’ll incorporate those things that can be incorporated and we’ll address those neighbors concerns as we move forward within the constraints of what the town’s regulations are for building roads,” she said.

The museum has also been talking with business leaders at the Sandwich Chamber of Commerce, the Cape Cod Canal Region Chamber and the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce about the plans, she said.

For the road work, the Museum plans on using about $1 million in state funding that has already been granted.

Spear said the current road configuration is anything but ideal.

“We’ve been concerned for some time that there is a safety issue right in front of our front entrance that is formed by four streets that come together in what we call a bow tie,” she said.

Because the museum works closely with the Sandwich School District as well as other Cape towns, there are often school children disembarking from buses in the area, she said.

“There’s no room for people to get off the road. People coming in buses and vehicles have to get off in the middle of the road. Elders coming in for tours have to get off in the middle of the road. It makes it difficult for drivers coming through and it’s not a safe situation,” Spear said of the reason for the reconfiguration.

On prime summer days, Spear said, because of the way the parking is configured, the museum puts cars on some neighborhood streets to park, including Shawme Road, Pocasset Road, Pine Street and Grove Street.

The proposal, Spear said, is two realignments of two streets, of Grove Street and of Shawme Street, 150 feet on Grove Street and 500 feet on Shawme, that would create a square allow the consolidation of parking.

“When we can consolidate parking better, we can get those cars off the street and make for a safer place so that buses can come into a parking area and children and elders can get off those vehicles in a parking lot safely to enjoy Heritage,” she said.

The museum is at the beginning of the process of getting permission for the road reconfiguration, Spear said. Besides bringing the plan before selectmen, museum officials are working closely with the Department of Public Works the engineering department. The project will also need planning board approval, she said.

The roads are town-owned and would continue to be town owned. “The realigned roads would come through what is now Heritage property, which would be given to the town. So this is a public betterment that we hope we can work with the town on that Heritage would bear the cost of design and construction and it would be something that would benefit the town and would become town roads,” she said.

While there is a $1 million grant for the project, Spear said she will not know the cost until the museum works with the town on the details for building the roads to meet town requirements.

Spear mentioned other exhibits planned for next year: three generations of the Wyeth family and a reinstalled exhibit of the museum’s permanent collection, including the marching miniatures.