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National Discovery Center

Like many large-scale parks and protected natural areas across the globe, American Prairie Reserve (APR) will one day have a central gathering place for visitors from around the world.

That place is called the National Discovery Center, and it will be located in Lewistown, Montana, just two hours outside of the Reserve’s central point. The Center will host local, regional, and national activities and programs that stir visitors to love and want to preserve the prairie and all of its inhabitants.

Showcase

Discovery Around the Corner

“We aim to make the National Discovery Center an inspiring place that champions the people, wildlife, and beauty of the prairie, and that also is an important hub for Lewistown and beyond.” –Seth Hawkins, Kären & Jay Abbe Director of the National Discovery Center

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How It Began

Two of the core tenets of American Prairie Reserve are enabling public access and education. The Center will be a rendezvous point for visitors going to the Reserve, a vibrant place for community building and partnership, and an important educational resource on the importance of grassland ecosystems to the health of our planet.

American Prairie Reserve staff spent 18 months carefully researching potential locations for the Center. They settled on the Power Mercantile Building in Lewistown due to its proximity to the Reserve, the presence of local land and wildlife management partners, and to contribute to the Lewistown economy.

Since the historic building’s purchase, the APR team has been busy solidifying plans and raising funds for the extensive renovations needed for a facility of this size. Thanks to a generous gift from Kären and Jay Abbe, the team hired the Center’s new director, Seth Hawkins. As Director, Seth will oversee the Center’s renovation, while also keeping local stakeholders and residents involved and informed during the process.

Progress

After a nationwide search, American Prairie Reserve hired exhibit and museum design team Split Rock Studios from Minneapolis, Minnesota, to create a plan for various components of the National Discovery Center. Split Rock specializes in cultural and nature exhibits, and past work includes designs for the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the Charles M. Russell Museum in Montana. Split Rock used extensive research and community input that the APR staff gathered over the past few years to design the space.

The Center will include an immersive theater, exhibit hall, interactive children’s zone, a conference and event pavilion, and some American Prairie Reserve staff offices. In addition, there will be an information desk that will help visitors plan and fully enjoy their trip to the Reserve.

In other words, imagine photography displays spanning the hallways, state-of-the-art interactive exhibits that bring prairie wildlife to the viewer, youth summer camps and outdoor learning activities, and programs that bring to life the science, culture, and history of the region. All of this and more are in the mix. American Prairie Reserve is excited that the activity resulting from the Center and all of its components – including the Ken Burns American Heritage Theater – will encourage patronage of local hotels, restaurants, and shops in Lewistown and the surrounding communities.

American Prairie Reserve hired A&E Design from Billings, Montana as the project's architecture firm and Birdwell Builders from Lewistown as the principal contractor.

Construction on the National Discovery Center began in June 2020 with an anticipated completion in summer 2021.

Fundraising

Fundraising for the National Discovery Center has been one component of American Prairie Reserve’s Land of Legacy Campaign – a multi-faceted approach to raising funds to grow APR’s supporter base, land base, and visitor infrastructure.

As of our groundbreaking and thanks to the support of generous donors, American Prairie Reserve has been able to raise more than two thirds of the funds necessary to complete the Center and open it to the public.

Though an ambitious undertaking, enthusiastic donor and community support has helped make incredible progress, and it seems that the possibilities are limitless for the American Prairie Reserve National Discovery Center.