If you've ever tried to entertain a houseful of children or grandchildren on a rainy summer day, you know the value of indoor attractions.

And if you can find one that's as interesting for adults as it is for the younger set, you know you've found a gem.

That's what makes Tuckerton Seaport in Ocean County, Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center in Cumberland County and the Atlantic City Aquarium so special. It's part of the reason that people concerned with tourism repeat over and over that the Jersey shore needs attractions aside from beaches and boardwalks.

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And it is one of the great things about the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum at the Cape May County Airport.

So it was good news last week when county freeholders approved a plan to seek Historic District status for 12 acres of the airport, including several buildings that date from the World War II-era Naval Air Station. The designation, if approved by the State Historic Preservation Office, could help the museum expand by providing tax credits and preservation funds.

The Naval Air Station museum is pretty much just a hangar full of old planes. The great thing about it is that it's just a hangar full of old planes.

Yes, there are interactive science stations and displays about American culture in the 1940s. The museum shows an interesting film about the history of the station, where young recruits learned to be dive-bomber pilots (and at least 42 of them lost their lives).

But the best part of the museum is the chance to get up close and personal with an impressive collection of historic flying machines and other military memorabilia.

While it is a great rainy-day destination, in better weather visitors can wander outside the hangar and actually sit in a Vietnam War-era helicopter.

Museum Director Joe Salvatore had originally sought the Historic District designation for a much larger section of the airport. That plan was opposed by the county, the Federal Aviation Administration, some pilots and the Delaware River and Bay Authority, which leases much of the airport. Their concern was that by having too much of the airport under a historic designation, future growth and development would be limited.

The area the county OK'd for historic status last week includes three World War II-era buildings, including the hangar that houses the museum.

Museum officials are talking about expansion plans that could include creating a U.S. Coast Guard museum that would have room for exhibits that don't fit in the small museum at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn.

If it has the same casual, hands-on atmosphere and the same sort of wow-factor exhibits as the Naval Air Station museum, it sounds like another winner for Cape May County - and harried parents throughout southern New Jersey.

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