Museums prepare to welcome visitors

Published 6:59 pm Friday, September 4, 2020

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With the announcement this week by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper that museums statewide will be able to reopen their doors this weekend, local exhibit halls are preparing to welcome back visitors, while maintaining appropriate health precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.


At the North Carolina Estuarium, director Tom Stroud said he and his staff are excited to start welcoming back guests this weekend. As of Saturday, the museum will open its exhibit hall in a limited capacity, with 20 visitors allowed in the building at any given time. Hours are also temporarily reduced from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays.

“We’ve been looking forward to getting folks back in here for months now, but we know we still need to be safe about it,” Stroud said. “We’re limiting hours, we’re limiting capacity in the building, and we will be requiring masks for everybody 12 and older inside the building. But just having folks back in is why were here — to give visitors to Washington the chance to learn about the river and the estuary.”

The Estuarium asks the public to exercise patience as it implements its new safety measures. Groups of eight or more people are asked to call ahead at 252-948-0000 to make arrangements.


While Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum founder Leesa Jones says that the museum is set up in such a way that volunteers could bring artifacts outside while a small group of people tours the inside of the bright orange caboose that houses its exhibits. Due to construction on West Main Street, however, it could be a few more weeks before that can happen.

“September is International Underground Railroad History Month, so were hoping at some point we’ll be able to use the park the museum is located in to do some presentations and activities,” Jones said. “We’re hoping that some of the construction will be complete so we can do that in the last week of September.”

The vision for that event, dubbed “A Night at the Museum,” is to bring exhibits and artifacts outside offering a presentation that includes singing, dancing, nursery rhymes, and demonstrations of how food, clothing and other everyday items were used by those seeking their freedom. Additional details will be announced in the coming weeks, and the museum’s exhibit space at the Harbor District Market is open Thursdays through Saturdays of each week.


Historic Bath State Historic Site will welcome guests back into its visitor center and historic structures beginning Tuesday, the site announced on social media Friday. While all visitor center exhibits will be open, some new procedures will be in place to ensure the safety of staff and visitors, including:

  • Limiting visitors to 50% of occupancy;
  • Requiring cloth masks to enter the Visitor Center and historic structures;
  • Installing hand sanitizer stations and increasing the frequency of cleaning high-touch public areas and restrooms;
  • Installing protective barriers at sales counters and information desk;
  • And interactive exhibit features will be paused or modified.

Visitors are expected to follow the “Three Ws” as outlined by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services — wearing a cloth mask, waiting in line at least six feet away from others and washing hands frequently.

The staff at the site ask that potential guests postpone their visit if they are experiencing signs of illness.


In the case of the Aurora Fossil Museum, reopening will also be slightly delayed as well, according to museum director Cynthia Crane. She says the plan is to do a phased reopening in mid-to-late September, beginning with the main museum building while the fossil pits and learning center remain closed. The museum will still have reduced hours and guests will need to reserve a time to visit via an online ticketing system.

“This will allow us to ‘test the waters’ to see how we can manage our new configuration while following the reopening protocols,” Crane wrote in an email Friday. “As Beaufort County’s COVID-19 case count continues to rise, the safety of our staff, visitors and the Aurora community is our top priority.”

Further details on the Aurora Fossil Museum’s reopening will be announced in coming weeks.