Museum south of Bend celebrates the region with an eye to the future
There are many great vistas in Central Oregon, but rarely can you to look into the past and still see that present. That's possible at the High Desert Museum.
The museum, located three miles south of Bend on Highway 97, is much more than a history center.
"We're a museum, zoo and discovery center all rolled into one," says museum spokeswoman Lisa Olsiewski.
"We always have a story to tell. Behind each story, our mission is to promote thoughtful decision-making to sustain the region and its heritage," Olsiewski says. "We try to present all sides of a story."
The museum originally was founded 1974 as the Western Natural History Institute. The institute opened the Oregon High Desert Museum in 1982.
"We quickly realized our scope was much larger than just Oregon," Lisa Olsiewski says. With that, "Oregon" was dropped from the name.
Today, the museum attracts more than 100,000 paid visitors a year.
With each exhibit and special event, the museum staff strives to present all sides of an issue to encourage people to be more involved.
A good example of this effort shown in two permanent exhibits, "Spirit of the West" and "By Hand Through Memory." Each exhibit provides a perspective on the high desert - a region that extends from eastern Washington through central and eastern Oregon and into Nevada and California.
"Spirit of the West" tells the history of settlement in the region with a European perspective," Olsiewski says. "By Hand through Memory" balances the presentation by explaining the impact of White settlement on Native Americans.
"This exhibit includes cultures and traditions retained by Native Americans almost in spite of settlement and reservations," she says.
"We also ask what's going to happen in the future. This is one of the fastest growing regions (of the United States), but it has fragile resource issues. How do we become better stewards?"
There's plenty to discover outdoors as well, including live animals exhibits, a nature trail, an exhibit explaining the role of forests in an arid high desert climate, a sawmill, a mustang corral and the "Wind, Earth & Fire Trail" where visitors learn the pros and cons of "prescribed burns" in forest areas.
"It's an interpretive nature trail that explores the role of fire in the desert and allows the public to see first-hand the effects of a prescribed burn," Olsiewski says.
HOW TO FIND THE MUSEUM
59800 South Hwy 97, Bend, OR 97702
By Dan Shryock