BELDING — Isaac Raih wasn’t in a children’s museum Sunday afternoon, at least not in his mind.
The 7-year-old from Greenville, seated firmly in the cockpit of a Cessna 150 airplane on the second floor of the Belrockton Museum in Belding, believed he was on an active runway, flipping switches and turning knobs as he prepared himself for takeoff.
On the video monitor ahead of him, his plane began to taxi off the runway as it continued to pick up speed.
“I’m going, I’m going!” he shouted as he looked back over his shoulder to his sister, Heidi Raih, 9.
The plane lifted off from Greenville Municipal Airport and hovered over trees as it began its trip over the cities of Greenville and Belding.
“Here we go!” he shouted again to his sister. “We’re flying!”
At the newly opened Belding Exploration Lab at the Belrockton in Belding, with his imagination working in overdrive, he was indeed flying.
Isaac and his sister were just a couple of the hundreds of children whose imaginations were taken to new levels while attending the two-day grand opening of the new children’s museum, located at 108 Hanover St. in downtown Belding.
Isaac’s mother, Kim Raih, was left in awe as her two children continued to play and learn in the various rooms at the museum.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” she said. “It feels better than any other children’s museum that we’ve been to, and we’ve been to a lot of them,”
Kim said the unique learning areas within the museum provided an atmosphere that was perfect for children to stay engaged for hours, as her children had been on Sunday.
“There are a lot of things that you wouldn’t normally find in a children’s museum here, like an airplane, where things are more hands on and they are learning instead of just playing.”
She said she was also happy to only have to drive a few miles to the museum, rather than drive longer distances to Grand Rapids or Lansing for a similar experience.
With eight themed rooms of the Belding Exploration Lab located on the second floor of the Belrockton Museum focusing on the local history and natural surroundings of the Belding area, the “hands-on” approach that museum board members took with the exhibits is a contributing factor in keeping children focused as they travel from room to room.
Library Advisory Board member Bruce Feuerstein said he was told by a parent that the Belding Exploration Lab was “more hands-on” than any children’s museum she had ever been to before.
“This is fabulous, it has been very busy,” he said. “The community has been very supportive and the kids are just thrilled.”
Feuerstein said he believes the Belding Exploration Lab could rival children’s museums in Indianapolis, Ann Arbor, and St. Joseph, to name a few locations.
“This is a gem, it’s a real showplace,” he said. “Everyone is on their cell phones just trying to spread the word to get people out here today.”
Ella Proctor, 4, of Greenville said fishing in the Adventure on the Flat room was her favorite part of her trip to the new Belding Exploration Lab.
But she could also be seen dressing up in Native American garments in the Back in Time room, playing inside a model wigwam as she collected toy vegetables.
Her grandmother, Jayne Fischer of Belding, said their experience at the Belding Exploration Lab was a good one, offering many opportunities for Ella to learn and play.
“She just had a blast, we’ve been here all day,” she said. “I’ll have a hard time getting her out of here. Every room here offers something for her to learn about while having fun at the same time.”
After nearly two years of work to complete the new children’s museum, Library Advisory Board Director Barb Fagerlin was happy to finally see the empty rooms filled to capacity with children traveling from room to room.
“I think all of the kids really enjoyed it here today, we had a very good crowd,” she said. “It has been very exciting, it’s hard to believe we are finally done and kids are now enjoying it.”
The Belding Exploration Lab will be open on the second and fourth Saturdays and Wednesdays of every month.
On Saturdays it will open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Wednesdays from 1 to 5 p.m.
The children’s museum will be open at no cost, but children must be accompanied by an adult.
Most items in the museum were either donated or built by area volunteers, including students and faculty at both Belding and Lakeview high schools.
“Creating this place was a community effort,” Fagerlin said. “There are so many people to thank who made this happen.”