Sunday, April 20, 2014

Improving the Eco-Connectivity Exhibition

On Thursday, we had a delightful opening of our new exhibition, “How did the Cougar cross the Road: Restoring wildlife passage at Snoqualmie Pass,” followed by our very busy Earth Day family festival on Saturday; on Friday, about fifty fourth graders came through on  Saturday about three hundred people, including many children, visited the gallery so we are now beginning to get a sense of areas in which the show might be improved.

The exhibition explores the Snoqualmie East I-90 project, being constructed in the Cascade mountain range by the Washington State Department of Transportation for approximately $600 million. We concentrate on the project components concerned with restoring wildlife passage under and over the highway, especially the planned Price-Noble wildlife bridge over the interstate. 

We would like some sort of literary frame for the exhibition,perhaps alluding to the image of the cougar. I am wondering if we might draw on a passage from Wallace Stegner’s classic  1984, “Memo to a Mountain Lion. penned to convince  the California Legislature to ban the hunting of mountain lions. For example,

“Once, in every corner of this continent, your passing could prickle the stillness and bring every living thing to the alert. But even then you were more felt than seen. You were an imminence, a presence, a crying in the night, pug tracks in the dust of a trail. Solitary and shy, you lived beyond, always beyond. Your comings and goings defined the boundaries of the unpeopled.”

We have a wagon wheel borrowed from Olmstead Place State Park that we are preparing; as soon as it is ready, we’ll install that in the front “Feet, Hooves and Wheels” small section on transportation across the past. We will work in the wonderful 1882 Yakima Wagon company toll tickets lent to us by Cathy Hash into that section.   It does seem to me that the section on indigenous perspectives on Snoqualmie Pass is underdeveloped; and we’ll need to give it some thought.

We’ve already made one correction. At the start of the steep slope from the wildlife bridge platform, we’ve put in two yellow signs, warning “Caution. Steep Wildlife Climb” showing the outline of a bear descending a hill.  Our plan is to screw in climbing holds on the upward path up the slope, so that children will be able to emulate climbing on a manageable climbing wall.

We’re still trying to figure out the most effective way to use the “Willdlife Passage Puppet Theater,” which is at the top of the wildlife bridge platform.  Children have clearly enjoyed making puppets out of paper bags with all the colored paper components that Sarah assembled.  We’ve  also seen that, if prompted by an adult, children enjoy using the provided plush puppets (of a lynx, bear, snail and pika) but that they do need a fair amount of prompting from adults to have brief exchanges among the animals;  I was pleased to see that the fourth graders seated in the gathering space on the floor in front of the puppet theater raised their hands to ask questions of the puppets, about how much liked the bridge and so forth. But they don’t put on puppet performances on their own without being told to do so.

 College student interns probably need to model performances first.   I’ve suggested a small skit at:

The most complex challenge in terms of scientific education is figuring out a way to communicate the relevance of increasing genetic connectivity for extended the gene pool. To some of the young people we’ve talked to it doesn’t seem all that intuitive that increasing relatedness between long-separated populations will lead to greater genetic diversity, and thus greater chances of resilience in the event of environmental challenges.  Several colleagues have suggested there might be a way to use bags of different colored marbles (or jelly beans?) to illustrate some basic statistical principles, about the likelihood of dangerous alleles being reduced in a larger, more diverse population.  I’m not sure if there is any possible way to integrate that with a puppet show, or if that would be a stand-alone demonstration.

We’ve certainly seen that children love to run around the ramp, following the cougar and elk tracks, n climbing down the steep slope, pushing toy trucks through the tunnels as they crawl through them, and making wild animal paper bag puppets.

We’re glad that they are thinking of the Museum as a fun place to visit, but of course we’d like them to learn something about nature and environmental processes while they are there.  We’re not sure yet precisely how the puppet-making, puppet-theater and the three dimensional aspects of the space can best be integrated in an effective educational manner.

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