Saturday, April 12, 1997, Turtle Bay Exploration Park (Then Turtle Bay Museums and Arboretum on the River) opened its first new, post-merger attraction, Paul Bunyan’s Forest Camp. The free event launched the beginning of the Turtle Bay build out and was the first public physical manifestation of the hard work of The Forest Museum, founded 14 years earlier. The camp also provided a gateway for public access to the Interpretive Forest planted in 1992/1993.
It was a wild day. We estimated that about 5,000 people streamed across the little boardwalk and through the gate in the hours after Paul Bunyan himself (okay, honestly, it was a really tall actor) cut the ribbon. Those first guests walked into a carnival atmosphere. Paul’s famous companion, Babe the Blue Ox, was on site in a big red corral. The Dolbeer Steam Donkey was up and running under the tender care of John Nicoles and Jerry Harmon, who still work with demonstrating two person chainsaws for curious kids. Every available space had an activity set up, and there was plenty of food.
It was my 13th day on the Turtle Bay staff. I’d been recruited straight out of grad school to help the Curator of Forestry, Linda Ragsdale, and the Forestry Educator, Jeanne Tomascheski, run the brand new Forest Camp. Almost the entire Turtle Bay staff turned out that day to put on the event, even people whose focus was on our other sites, the Redding Museum of Art and History, Carter House Natural Science Museum, and the Redding Arboretum.
Paul Bunyan’s Forest Camp has changed quite a bit. In 1999, we opened the Butterfly House in the Interpretive Forest. In 2000, we moved the camp’s entrance when we opened the Visitor Center – soon to be the Mosaic Restaurant. The animal program re-located from Carter House to the camp in 2002. We started adding animal habitats to the Interpretive Forest five years ago and launched Wildlife Woods.
The original playground and the water area on opening day – before the shade canopy.
Improvements continue. The amphitheater has undergone extensive renovations twice and is getting more shade sails as I type. Over the years, we’ve rebuilt and refurbished the playground until parts were so worn that they had to be removed entirely as part of the extensive renewal project that is taking place in tandem with hotel construction. We are very excited about the new entertaining and educational experiences families will have in the modernized and expanded play area. The first kids to run through the front gate are adults now, and many of them bring their children to Turtle Bay.
It has been an eventful 20 years, both for Turtle Bay and for me. In 2002, I was promoted to Collections Manager and moved out of my Mill Building office and over to the museum’s Collections Facility. In 2007, I relocated to an office in the Museum and took over curatorial duties. When I walk around Paul Bunyan’s Forest Camp, the biggest shock for me is the Interpretive Forest. Steady growth sneaks up on you. While gathering images for this blog, I looked at pictures of the trees in 1997 when I began taking kids on tours. Some of the taller trees topped 15 feet, but not many. Today, the Interpretive Forest is visible from a distance!
The Vault is Always Open,