MANKATO — When the Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota opens next year, no doubt one of the signature attractions will be the Tree of Forts Climber exhibit.
When that highly anticipated feature finally gets unveiled to the public — with forts and bridges and ropes and plenty of nooks and crannies for kids to get lost and learn in — it will have a signature staircase to go along with it.
Linder Enterprises, a rather quietly internationally known Mankato company that produces high-end staircases, will construct a staircase that will start at the floor and spiral its way 28 feet to the top.
The company is donating design time and materials. The museum will pay roughly half of the estimated $110,000 cost of the staircase. It will be built as one solid structure. Then, while the museum is under construction in June, the staircase will be dropped in with a crane.
Five unique forts will be sprinkled around the tree. The staircase will have landings along its corkscrew-like route to allow access to those forts. And while the staircase can be used by anyone, its biggest gift of convenience may be to the parents.
Kids are likely to use a cargo net-lined vertical tunnel that will run from the bottom to the top of the exhibit. Their parents can take the less gymnastic staircase if they'd like.
Fundraising continues to go strong. Deb Johnson of the museum said they've raised about $4.1 million so far, but they need another $1 million to complete the exhibits. The so-called Whiz Bang area aimed at older kids, for example, has little funds for exhibit creation.
The museum will have agriculture-related exhibits, a quarry exhibit, a community room for community gatherings or birthday parties, special entrance for school buses, etc.
Johnson said they're planning a soft opening for the end of the year and a grand opening next spring at the new site in the former city bus garage near Cub West.