SEQUIM – A little rain wasn’t going to stop this party, not with nearly four decades and a proverbial river of community and regional support behind it.
Defenders of the Dungeness River Nature Center gathered on Sunday for the invitation-only celebration of the multimillion-dollar — almost complete — expansion in which nearly every aspect of the popular center is being upgraded, including expanded meeting spaces, a gift shop, cafe, rain garden, new entrance road and parking lot as well as a hands-on discovery area, 3D relief watershed map and salmon room. It is not yet open to the public, but an open day is planned for July 6 and 7.
When visitors come to the center at 1943 W. Hendrickson Road in Sequim, “they are going to know they are going to have a surprise and a destination,” said W. Ron Allen, president of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.
Home to many outdoor and educational activities, the center will “help people understand why nature is so important,” Allen noted.
“It’s a dream come true,” Annette Hanson, president of the Dungeness River Nature Center and founder of what would later become the Railroad Bridge Parks Education Center, said Sunday as she thanked donors.
“You have left our community and our region one of the best legacies you have ever been able to,” she said.
The project started with a price tag of $2.9 million, center manager Powell Jones said, but has grown to around $5.4 million thanks to the pandemic, supply chain issues and other uncontrollable cost effects.
Through the 2018 “Inspire Wonder” fundraising campaign, significant contributions came from partners, philanthropic organizations and community donations. However, nature center advocates collected about 90% of that final price, Jones said.
Funds are still needed for the fabrication and installation of the 3D ecosystem exhibit, said Jan Halliday, donor and sponsor engagement coordinator for the nature center.
The exhibit will include five murals, the integration of the extensive wildlife specimens, interpretive panels, photos, tribal artifacts and related equipment that showcases the entire watershed, fields of salt water snow.
The rest of the exhibits are being built and should be fully installed by Oct. 30, Halliday said.
State Representative Steve Tharinger of Legislative District 24 was among the dignitaries celebrating the opening of the center Sunday afternoon. He recalled a favorite quote from William Shakespeare: “A touch of nature makes the whole world kindred.
Tharinger said: “There’s no doubt the world could use a little more kinship right now. The River Center provides this kinship on an ever-increasing scale by connecting young and old to the natural world of the Dungeness Valley.
“The center helps people understand the complex interrelationships of the river ecosystem, which is good on many levels.
The new polished river center is the culmination of more than four decades of effort to give the community a place to discover and explore the catchment area of the River Dungeness, which has its origins in a room in the old school building Sequim off North Sequim. Street.
In the mid-1980s, Hanson’s husband, Mark Hanson, a middle school science teacher, overheard sixth graders talking about the birds they had shot and showing what he felt was a general disregard for animal life.
So he started mounting stuffed birds and began showing them in classrooms, using an educational permit from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife “to retrieve specimens,” Annette Hanson recalled.
“We had road deaths, window kills – you can imagine what we had in our freezer,” she said.
In 1984, with the help of local artists, the Hansons built the Sequim Museum of Natural History, an entire model watershed from mountain to sea, filled with specimens of flora and fauna in dioramas from the ground to the ceiling.
Mark Hanson obtained a Fish and Wildlife Study Permit to recover specimens.
In the early 1990s, when the school reclaimed the space, the museum was put into storage. However, community members worked together to purchase the historic railroad bridge and a half-mile right-of-way as Railroad Bridge Park, the first piece of the Olympic Discovery Trail in Clallam County.
“We thought, ‘What a perfect place to have a new center. Look at the framework we have. That’s why we’re here,'” Hanson said on Sunday.
When government sponsorship of the project failed, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe assumed responsibility and ownership of the land and buildings, expanding the park by 10 acres on the east side of the river.
The Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society and the National Audubon Society joined the partnership in 1997.
Since its opening in 2001, people have visited the Dungeness River Audubon Center for classes, festivals, lectures, field trips, summer camps and more.
“After about 12 years in a small apartment building…conversations started happening: ‘We don’t have enough space,'” Jones recalls.
Years later, through a partnership with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, efforts to fully renovate the facility came to fruition.
“What’s really cool about the River Center is that it’s not like a lot of other nature centers, where it’s strictly organic or eco-friendly and that sort of thing,” said David Brownell, executive director of the North Olympic Historical Center, in a video. product on the expansion of the center.
“[It] combines elements of real railway history [of the Olympic Discovery Trail and bridge] then elements of tribal culture and history.
Railroad Bridge Park will not have public parking until June 5. After that, the new parking lot will be open.
“We want to be a world-class nature center,” Jones said.
“There could be a couple of 1,000 kids learning about the watershed. How that trickles down into the community – when they go home and present new ideas to their family and talk about it – on a local level, it’s amazing.
Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Olympic Peninsula News Group’s Sequim Gazette, which is also made up of other newspapers Sound Publishing Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Join it at [email protected].