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Shell Museum works to market unique programs, summer camps

By Staff | May 14, 2009

There are no giant slides, whizzing roller coasters or bubbly cartoon characters dancing in the street.

Here at the Baileys-Matthews Shell Museum things are a bit different from the typical Florida entertainment venue.

For under $10 you can encounter and in some cases touch odd-looking creatures from the sea, learn about shells of every kind and even join in workshops with renowned scientists.

The decades old museum – the only one of its kind in North America – is getting ready for its summer season. Though the museum gets packed during the rush of vacationers during the winter months, staff are expecting their summer crowd consisting of families and children participating in the summer camp program.

The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum is in step with meeting the need of people who want to spend their leisure time and vacations doing more earth-friendly and nature-oriented activities.

According to Nancy Hamilton, communications director for the Lee County Visitors & Convention Bureau (LCVB), Lee County experienced a 10 percent increase of visitors compared to last year.

A combination of stress from the battered economy, a need to enjoy the more natural things in life – on a budget, have made places like the Shell Museum a popular draw.

“This area has always been known for its nature-based attractions,” Hamilton said. “We have people who actually come here for a week of shelling.”

Armed with this information and the fact that another growing trend – folks wanting vacation packages that include lodging and entertainment – Shell Museum Staff got to work.

Public Relations Manager Kathleen Hoover said the staff has been meeting with the LCVB and area businesses to create package deals for vacationers and staycationers.

Hamilton said doing business this way is good for everybody.

“It promotes people to stay here longer,” she said. “You’re giving them more things to do.”

Recent visitor Diane Hanson of South Beach, Miami delighted in the layout of the museum. She brought her four-year-old grandson Ingo who is fascinated with nature.

“This is a fabulous museum,” Hanson said. “It’s great for him (Ingo) to discover and play.”

Dr. Jose Leal curator/executive director for the non-profit Shell Museum said drawing more people to the museum is important.

“I think it will be a great opportunity to reinforce our mission to the environment,” Leal said.

According to it’s web site, the museum’s mission is to educate people about shells and mollusks – the shell-makers, through exhibits, educational programs, library services and publications; to increase awareness of nature and the natural environment and to promote collection-based research on shells and mollusks with emphasis on Southwest Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

Hoover said more interests in shells helps keep the shell museum a magnet for eco-tourists.

“There’s a growing interest about mollusks,” she said. “The fact that there’s an animal that makes this treasure (shell).”

Though package deals are still in the works with other local agencies and businesses, the Shell Museum has a variety of upcoming programs.

On a daily basis a visitor can take a self-guided tour of the museum and learn about various species of shells and their history. There are rare and one-of-a kind shells on display at the Shell Museum. Visitors get to learn more about shells through a movie about mollusks and educated staff and volunteers on hand. There is also a live touch tank.

During times when workshops are being held, visitors are also free to attend without any additional fee aside from their $7 admission fee. Children are $4.

and very young children are free.

There are free beach walks in June and July. They are led by knowledgeable volunteers. Ongoing workshops including how to clean and transport shells are held.

And for children summer camp will be starting June 15th and ending in mid-August. Camp programs last a week to two weeks depending on the camp. This is the museum’s second year for conducting summer camp. Of the four camps – the two most popular last year were Video Camp and Puppet Theater.

The Video Camp – Lights, Camera Mollusks lets the older children learn a technology skill and promotes bonding since the camp lasts for two weeks, Hoover said. And Puppet Theater helps draw out the performer in the child without the fear associated with being onstage. Children get to express themselves through the puppets instead.

Diane Orvis Thomas Program Specialist for the Shell Museum said aside from the fun, summer camp allows the children to learn new vocabulary words and understand science better.

Imagination will get a chance to be released during cartoon camp. There children will get to make cartoons and put them in either a strip of accordion book

“This is science and creativity,” Orvis Thomas said.

Campers will also get to apply what they learn by playing a Shell Museum version of the popular game Jeopardy. There will also be music and movement infused in the camps, Orvis Thomas said.

“We hope it’s going to be fun,” she said.

For more information about the camps or to register, call 395-2233.