New exhibit launches at Smithsonian

Sara Beltran, 6, tugs on the cord of an audio station, which describes the exhibit in both English and Spanish. Beltran traveled to Washington from Mexico with her mother, father and sister Eva, 16.

By Ellie Toler, JCamp Reporter

People can now walk through the Pacific West, the Northeast, the Southeast and Alaska in a day. This isn’t the onset of superhuman speed. This is a new exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History.

“I think it’s wonderful,” John Salazar, a father of two from South Carolina, said as his wife continued to examine a photograph behind him. “I think it’s needed. Get the kids out more, get everyone out more to enjoy what we have with natural resources.”

The Smithsonian and the National Park Service collaborated to create “100 Years of America’s National Park Service: Preserve, Enjoy, Inspire” in celebration of the National Park Service. Featuring images of 53 national parks and several museum specimens, the exhibit officially opened Thursday, Aug. 4 and will remain open for a year.

Junko Chinen, Chief of Exhibit Development and Project Management at the National Museum of Natural History, said the idea of a national parks exhibit first emerged in early 2014; however, tax services axed the plan due to budget and time issues.

After cuts to the scope of the exhibit, the project was finally confirmed last October, giving the Smithsonian and the National Park Service less than a year to complete it. The Harpers Ferry Center of the National Park Service coordinated the production of the photos, audio and descriptions, and the Smithsonian installed and designed the exhibit. Hanging of the photographs began last month.

Chinen said she worried the exhibit would lack a “wow” factor due to the small size of some of the photos.

Yet for newlyweds Courtnie and Nathaniel Schaffer, the exhibit was a great stop on their honeymoon trip to Washington. Circling the room, they paused and pointed to the places they’ve traveled, particularly appreciating the image of Big Bend National Park in their home state of Texas.

“I definitely think it’s great that they have something that compiles everything from all around the nation,” Courtnie said.

The National Park Service strived to reflect that diversity in this exhibit, Technical Services Manager Janice Wheeler said.

They aimed to make the exhibit, which includes a movie and slideshow, accessible to both the visually and hearing impaired.

Guests can listen to audio recordings, available in English and Spanish, with adjustable volumes that describe the exhibit. Written descriptions of each piece are also available in both English and Spanish.

For Eva Beltran, 16, this push for accessibility is appreciated. Visiting with her parents and younger sister from Mexico, Beltran recalled an earlier family vacation, one from a time when her English wasn’t as strong. Then, she sat through shows in Disney World that she didn’t understand. Now, she watches as her younger sister Sara, six years old, listens to a description of the exhibit in her native Spanish.

“When I was younger and I came to USA, it was really awful to me,” Eva said. “But now I understand English. I can understand everything that I would have liked to understand when I was younger.”