Discovery World on Market brings new opportunities for fun, learning, and discovery to Parkersburg.
Discovery World on Market is the product of one simple question: “How can we affect more people?” This was the question the Ross Foundation was asking in 2018 as the organization looked at its charitable investments in the Mid-Ohio Valley. The Ross Foundation has supported nonprofit organizations throughout the area since 2006—education, community development, arts, disability issues, and animal programs and projects were its primary area of interest.
Led by the vision and leadership of foundation Executive Director Tres Ross, Discovery World was a new level of financial commitment and commitment of resources by the foundation. Ross did the research and developed a business plan for the project, worked for a year to acquire the perfect downtown building, hired the statewide architecture firm Mills Group, secured a nationally recognized display company, and endured a pandemic to make the project a reality. Doors officially opened to the public on April 2, 2023.
Discovery World is designed primarily for ages 0–10 with a focus on playing and growing together with family and friends. This 30,000-square-foot facility is organized by adventure area:
In the River Adventure, uncover the wild and wonderful nature of the Ohio River, its crucial role in shaping the community, and the many animals and plants that call this area home. Water play stations bring joy to experimentation with everything from cause and effect to the power of water.
At The Ball Factory, visitors work together toward common goals by emphasizing communication, collaboration, and community. A whimsical central climbing structure is surrounded by ball-driven kinetic contraptions and activities, drawing inspiration from factory processes and Parkersburg’s important and fascinating industrial history.
In the Design Studio, visitors exercise their minds using a variety of materials and activities. Experimentation and design-thinking are championed at making and problem-solving stations that guide young visitors through creative and technical processes, inspiring kids to dream big and imagine themselves as the scientists, engineers, and artists of the future.
Visitation to Discovery World has already exceeded projections of 20,000 visitors for the first year of operation. Over the first six months, more than 37,000 people passed through the doors, and 60,000 are expected by the end of March 2024.
The tremendous attendance has increased the staffing needs for the museum. “Currently, we have five full-time and 25 part-time employees,” says Executive Director Wendy Shriver. “There is a lot of square footage to cover and make sure the kids are having a great experience. We have a nice blend of high school students, college students, and retired school teachers that are our museum assistants.”
Discovery World is open seven days a week and is a very popular destination for field trips by local schools and organizations, particularly during the week. “Monday and Tuesdays are set aside for school groups,” says Shriver. “We are not open to the public on those days.” Weekends are more popular for individual families.
The opening of the children’s museum has had a significant impact on visitation on the Parkersburg area. “We are ecstatic over the success that Discovery World on Market has seen in its first year of operation,” says Mark Lewis, executive director of the Greater Parkersburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Not only has Discovery World on Market introduced many thousands of new visitors to Parkersburg, but pairing a visit to Discovery World with our other family-friendly attraction, Blennerhassett Island State Park, provides a great weekend getaway for families with young children.” Overnight packages including tickets to Discovery World have been developed and promoted by the two main downtown hotels that are both within walking distance: the Blennerhassett Hotel and TownPlace Suites by Marriott.
The overarching goal for Ross and the Ross Foundation is to enhance the revitalization of downtown Parkersburg. “Moving forward, I see us doing more big projects,” says Ross. “We want to keep supporting our community through significant projects that benefit more people.” Discovery World, which is helping to attract supporting businesses to downtown Parkersburg and increasing the quality of life for employees working in the area and their families, is fulfilling that intention in a big way.
In the end, Discovery World on Market was a labor of love. “It is really rewarding to hear the kids when they come in the door,” says Shriver. “The look on their faces and the excitement in their voices makes all of it worthwhile.”
“On opening day, when I saw the first kids come in, I had to duck behind the corner because I was crying,” says Ross. “I was just thinking, ‘We did it.’” 900 Market Street, Parkersburg, dwonmarket.org, @discoveryworldonmarket on FB