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Holiday gifts and ‘guaranteed’ family fun at Natural History Museum

Monday, December 08, 2008JOHNSON CITY – If there’s someone on your gift list who “has everything,” try giving them the perfect, affordable holiday present – a trip to the Gray Fossil Site and the East Tennessee State University and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum.

The facility is open seven days a week from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. – with the exception of Christmas Day and New Year’s Day – so families can experience the excitement of new fossil discoveries on hourly guided tours and enjoy exploring the intriguing permanent displays in the Basler Exhibit Hall that is filled with hands-on activities for all ages.

Previous visitors to the facility already know that return trips are well worth their time because there is always something new to discover at the fossil museum, even on bad weather days when outdoor activities might be limited.

Continuing through Sunday, Dec. 21, is “Beyond: Visions of Planetary Landscapes,” a “stellar” traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., that is currently showcased in the Niswonger Exhibit Hall.

At 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 20, the museum will host its final “Out of This World!” free public talk entitled “An Exploration of Mars in 3-D” given by Dr. Gary Henson of the ETSU Department of Physics and Astronomy, for which 3-D glasses will be provided to help visitors take a fun and interesting look at “our neighboring red planet.”

And, in the spirit of the season, according to museum director Jeanne Zavada, the museum offers “many gifts that give twice” – to a special loved one and to the museum community. Annual memberships to the Natural History Museum include benefits such as quarterly newsletters, guest passes, discounted admissions for guided tours and traveling exhibits, and discounts on educational programs and event rentals.

To assist local schools whose budgets are being hit hard this year, the “Ocean Gems” 2009 calendars are available for a $10 donation that goes to support field trip scholarships for the Gray Fossil Site. In addition, the colorful “Ocean Gems” underwater photography exhibit by local artist and retired ETSU marine biologist Dr. Diane Nelson will remain on display in the museum’s AGC Atrium Balcony through Jan. 4, 2009.

New specialty items are also available in the Museum Gift Shop for the holidays, including vintage Smithsonian Institution jars containing sediment, minerals, “well-studied and abundant fossils,” and fossilized wood from elsewhere, plus identification kits, for visitors to purchase and take home to remind them of their trip to the ETSU and GSB Natural History Museum.

However, Zavada emphasizes that fossils collected from the ETSU Gray Fossil Site are immediately cleaned and catalogued as part of the museum’s permanent collection for ongoing study of the unique forested Miocene ecosystem, and these fossils are not for sale.

But the Museum Gift Shop’s growing collection of handmade jewelry, science toys and children’s books also make great gifts for those interested in natural history.

The ETSU and GSB Natural History Museum and Visitor Center is located 1.8 miles off the I-26 Gray Exit. For more information, call toll-free 1-866-202-6223 or 423-439-3659, or e-mail


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