LANSING, W.V. (LOOTPRESS) – Big changes are coming to the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve’s (NRGNPP) Canyon Rim Visitor Center, located in Lasing, West Virginia.
In an exclusive interview with Lootpress, Jessica Lynch, Museum Technician for the NRGNPP, a new position designed to increase access to the objects and information obtained by the park, detailed the upcoming additions that visitors can expect to see in 2022 and 2023.
“We have a lot of really cool stuff in store,” Lynch began.
For starters, the visitors center will begin construction on a new exhibit, which is expected to be open to the public in the spring of 2023. This new exhibit will feature items that have never been on display for the public before.
“…we have thousands of objects within our collection, so we really have to narrow down the objects that best tell the story of southern West Virginia and Appalachia- the people who lived here for generations. We have to be picky in that regard, but we also have to do right by the object.”
Lynch explained that some of the museum’s objects are heartier and can withstand being in a display case for the generations to come, while some are too sensitive and not in the condition they need to be to be featured.
“The older objects that are in our current exhibit have been there since the Canyon Rim Visitor Center reopened in 1991,” Lynch shared. “So, we want to give those a break, and we’re also planning on probably switching out and rotating items in the future.”
By continually rotating the displays Lynch says visitors will see something new each and every time they visit the park.
Lynch wasn’t able to give too much away about these new displays but was able to share some information about one of the items to be featured.
“We have an antique cash register from the Prince Brothers Store, which was a general store that served the area. This cash register is a really beautiful brass cash register that was made by the Cash Register National Company in Ohio so it’s one of a kind. Visitors are going to be able to see this object that’s never been on display before and really enjoy its beauty and also think about the things that were sold in the Prince Brothers Store, the things that people in West Virginia were engaging with in the 1900s.”
In addition to changing its current displays, Lynch shared that the NRGNPP is also turning its focus to creating more inclusive displays for all visitors. Since taking on the position of Museum Technician in 2021, Lynch says she has remained passionate about sharing artifacts with all.
“It’s the main thing that drives me really,” she explained. “The mission of the National Park Service is to preserve things for present and future generations, and we’d be doing a disservice to the local community if we didn’t make these things accessible and engaging for everyone.”
Lynch says this goal has been a main priority in designing the new exhibit, which will feature interactive displays and hands-on technology. The exhibits will also have braille display cards, tactile maps and audio descriptions for the visually impaired and lowered cases that will make viewing the displays possible for those using wheelchairs and other mobility aids.
In the spirit of increasing accessibility, the park is also working on a digitization project to publish its entire catalog of artifacts and objects being stored at the Bank of Glen Jean building, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and now serves the park as a museum.
This catalog will be published in March of this year.
“Not a lot of parks share what they have,” Lynch said, adding that while the museum can only show around 10 objects at a time to visitors, the online catalog will allow the public to access the 10,000 objects being stored at the museum. These items range from an old miner badge to Native American tools. The catalog will be made available on museum.nps.gov.
“They can see the things that they have entrusted the Park Service to protect forever. Without these tangible objects and without photographs to show us where people lived, what they looked like, entire livelihoods would be gone to time, so that’s why we are really passionate about not only letting visitors see these objects but also when they come to our visitor centers and when they come to tours of the museum spaces, we try to teach conservation techniques.”
Lynch explained these techniques involve informing the general public on how to take care of their own objects to make sure they last forever.
“These aren’t just techniques that museum curators and professionals can do…everyone can dust your favorite objects and make sure they’re not getting harmed by UV radiation so that these things can last for a very long time that way we can understand a bit more about the people that lived before us.”
As public lands and a recently designated national park, Lynch shared that the NRGNPP is excited to share these updates and improvements not only with the people of West Virginia but the entire country.
“We are excited for everyone to see what we’ve been working on,” she said. “It’s going to be a huge change in how the public is able to interact with what we have in storage. We want to make it easier for people to engage with these resources that mean so much to us and our culture.”
Work is already underway to implement these changes, and Lynch says the construction shouldn’t affect the visitor center’s closure too much. In the meantime, the park is partnering with a team in Harper’s Ferry to design and build the exhibits and just recently implemented a weekly social media campaign on its Facebook to do a deep dive into the history of objects from the collection.
While these changes are exciting, the park needs the help of the community to make them happen. Those interested in helping are encouraged to volunteer by helping Museum Collections identify objects so that they can be properly labeled and cared for prior to being added to the system.
Stay up-to-date on the park’s changes at nps.gov.neri.