HARRISBURG, Pa. - Five-year-old Nathan Camuso pushes a magnet along the underside of a table, watches a metal boat glide across the top and proudly calls out to his dad, "It's moving."
Nearby, Nathan's brother Noah, 3, doesn't care. He's busy twisting wooden pieces shaped like triangles, squares and ovals until they drop into the correct slots of a puzzle.
"It's been a real learning experience for the kids," Paul Camuso says as he and his wife, Megan, watch their children jump from one educational game to the next at the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts in Pennsylvania's capital. "They really enjoy the exhibits, and it's very entertaining for them."
The Camusos, from Salem, Ore., are among a growing number of visitors who are contributing to the success of both the Whitaker Center and its once-dilapidated host city.
Built four years ago at a cost of $52.7 million, the 20,000-square-foot center has 240 permanent interactive exhibits, including educational games in Kids' Hall, a learning center geared to children younger than 8.
Other sections of the three-story center house exhibits on physics, the environment, music, math, genetics and the human body, all presented with easy-to-understand displays and language.
Want to see if your body weight is proportional to your height? Stand under the angled shelf, check out the numbers on the wall, and you'll learn the answer.
A pirouette table, nestled amid artwork, allows participants to experience the same feeling as ballet dancers, without the years of practice. At a customized basin, you can build a wall of sand, turn on a faucet and see the effects of erosion.
Earlier this month, the center unveiled a new gallery for temporary exhibits. The inaugural exhibit, "Chimpanzee Challenge," includes a maze of blue walls that list facts about chimps and their relation to humans. The center also has an IMAX theater, where films related to the temporary exhibits are shown. Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees is one of the three current releases. An exhibit and film on bugs is scheduled for next spring.
One of the center's most popular attractions, the Sunoco Performance Theater, showcases a variety of acts, including several resident companies. On Oct. 30, a rock concert by Steve Earle and the Dukes is scheduled.
"We have over 250 nights of entertainment a year," said Byron Quann, the center's president and chief executive officer.
The center drew 397,000 visitors last year and is on track to reach 415,000 this year, spokeswoman Cynthia Pierce said. Nearly 60,000 students visited the center over the past year, including some from schools in northern Maryland.
The center, which has 2,200 annual members, is attracting visitors from beyond the capital region. "It was originally feared that maybe this would be strictly a local attraction," Quann said. "We find out that our largest source of business is from outside the area. So we're reaching out little by little each year. We think we can push the radius of people who would want to come here as part of a school trip or family trip."
Science Center tickets: $7.75 adults, $6.25 children ages 3 to 12, students (with identification) and seniors 55 and older. Information: 717-221-8201.
IMAX theater. (Showing Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees, Coral Reef Adventure, Lewis & Clark), Ticket prices per film: $8 adults, $6 children ages 3 to 12, $7.25 seniors 55 and older and for students. Information: 717-214-4629.
Science Center and IMAX theater combination ticket: $11 adults, $8.50 children ages 3 to 12, $10 for seniors 55 and older and students. Information: 717-221-8201.
members get in free because both facilities are Associated Science and Technology Centers.
Need more to do? Here are some of the shows scheduled at the Whitaker Center's Sunoco Performance Theater and at a nearby concert hall, the Forum (where the center sponsors acts requiring a larger venue): Deadpan comedian Steven Wright (Theater, Oct. 22, 7:30 p.m., tickets $29.50, $33.50); keyboardist Rick Wakeman (Theater, Oct. 28, 7:30 p.m., $32); folk musician Arlo Guthrie (Theater, Nov. 12, 8 p.m., $31.50); Jethro Tull band leader Ian Anderson (Forum, Nov. 13, time to be announced, $32, $38);Comedians Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood of Whose Line is it Anyway? (Forum, Nov. 25, 8 p.m., $25, $28.50); pianist George Winston (Theater, Dec. 16, 7:30 p.m., $32.50). Information for all performances: 717-214-ARTS.
Places to go
The National Civil War Museum (1 Lincoln Circle at Reservoir Park, Harrisburg): The 65,000-square-foot museum claims to tell "the entire story" of the Civil War, "without bias to Union or Confederate causes." The museum's latest exhibit -"Pennsylvania Invaded: Gettysburg Revisited" - runs through Dec. 31. Information: 717-260-1861.
State Museum of Pennsylvania (300 North St., Harrisburg): Learn about the history of Pennsylvania and its capital city. Highlights include a planetarium and the remains of "Marshalls Creek Mastodon," a mastodon that roamed northeastern Pennsylvania during the Ice Age 12,000 years ago. Information: 717-787-4900.
Places to eat
Fire House Restaurant & Bar (606 N. 2nd St., 717-234-6064): Delicious New American cuisine in a renovated 1871 firehouse.
KoKoMos Downtown Sports Bar & Grill (300 N. 2nd St., 717-920-5651): Great wings with a variety of sauces ranging from "plain" and "wimpy" to "extra hot" and "sudden death."
Appalachian Brewing Co. (50 N. Cameron St., 717-221-1080): As the name indicates, this place's specialty is its home-brewed, top-notch beverages.
Neato Burrito (209 N. 2nd St., 717-232-7467): Burritos made to order.
Mangia Qui (272 North St., 717-233-7358): Mediterranean cuisine.
The Red Door (110 N. 2nd St., 717-920-0330): Wine bar with tasting and prix-fixe menu.
The Whitaker Center is at 222 Walnut St., Harrisburg. From Baltimore, take Interstate 83 north to Harrisburg. Cross Susquehanna River and take Capitol Exit 43 (the first exit after crossing the river) to Second Street. Take Second Street to fourth traffic light and make right at Market Street. For discount parking, proceed on Market Street one-half block and turn left onto Court Street. Take ramp to the left, just before stop sign, and park in the Walnut Street garage. Take elevator to Strawberry Arcade and look for the Whitaker Center's welcome center. Discount parking exit passes are available for $4 at the welcome center.
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