Project Description

“A.C.’s Backyard” – completed June 6, 1998

The largest community-built project in Salem’s history resulted in the finest outdoor children’s discovery center in the Northwest. It took 19 days, over 6,000 volunteers, 20 miles of lumber, 2 tons of nails, and unending community support to create the masterpiece of A.C.’s Backyard. Climb the world’s largest erector set tower, play marimbas in the musical ensemble deck, explore the inside of the Earth’s Core, or become the captain of a paddle wheeler. These are just a few of the fantastic adventures you will have in our Outdoor Discovery Area.

Erector Set Tower

The most famous and popular of A.C. Gilbert’s inventions was the Erector Set, introduced in 1913. The Erector Set was not only used by children to build toys, but also used by architects and engineers to build models of real structures and machines. In A.C.’s Backyard, you can climb inside our playful Erector Set creation, the Giant Erector Set Tower. At 52 feet, the Tower is the largest of its kind in the world. Two giant slides, including one that is two stories high, and a maze complete the tower.

American Flyer Train

A.C. Gilbert made American Flyer Trains famous. Under his guidance, they became the most popular toy trains ever made. Climb aboard our American Flyer Train. Imagine hearing the engine chug & the whistle blow.

City of Salem Paddle Wheeler

The roads in the late 1800s in Oregon were not efficient. Various wagon trails could be found all over Oregon, but none could move people and goods as easily as the Willamette River that served as the main route to transport goods and people into and out of the Willamette Valley. Paddle wheelers were one form of transportation used on the river for passenger travel. The paddle wheeler here is a model of the City of Salem, a beautiful ship that once served the people of Salem.

Mammoth Dig

Imagine a giant mammoth crossing A.C.’s Backyard 20,000 years ago and settling down in a sand pit. Now, eons later, you can dig this prehistoric mammoth’s bones in our Mammoth Dig. With a little exploration, you can also uncover many other prehistoric creatures.

Paleontology Deck

Study the history of life on earth! Learn about different types of fossils and how they are made. Then, using what you’ve learned, examine different dinosaur bone structures and match them with dinosaurs found in the Dino Dig.

Global Village

Take a walk through the global village as you visit homes of people from around the world. Climb through the mud and sapling walls of a traditional Aboriginal hut, or imagine that you are in an adobe pueblo. Endless opportunities for make-believe abound in this tiny village of global dimensions.

Earth’s Core

Learn all about the Earth’s inner core, outer core, and mantle while playing! Climb and crawl inside and learn important facts and information about our very own planet.

Discovery Garden

Wander through the raised beds and pathways of a quiet corner of A.C.’s Backyard, the Discovery Garden. The garden is maintained by the hands and hearts of our volunteers.

Hopscotch Amphitheater

When not filled with live demonstrations and activities, the amphitheater is a great spot to enjoy a picnic lunch and play a game or two of hopscotch.