From the Vault: Twenty Years. The Big 2-0!

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.

The Forest Camp on Kool April Nites weekend in 1997

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.

Ribbon Cutting April 12, 1997
Jerry Harmon fires up the Dolbeer Steam Donkey April 12, 1997
Turtle Bay’s first Curator of Forestry, the former Forest Director, Linda Ragsdale, on opening day

Babe the Blue Ox and our popular Tree Cookie activity on opening day.

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 Interpretive Forest in December 1998 as we were surveying for the Butterfly House.

Who knows what the future holds, but here is to twenty more successful years!


The Vault is Always Open,

The Curatrix


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From the Vault: Did you know we have a Collection?

The entry to Gowns to Gold Pans: 50 Years of Collecting Redding’s Art & History
The entry to Gowns to Gold Pans: 50 Years of Collecting Redding’s Art & History

Did you know that Turtle Bay Exploration Park has a Permanent Collection of over 35,000 objects ranging from fine art, to ethnographic and archaeological artifacts, to vintage clothing and antiques, to historic photographs? Items range in size from the Shay #2 Locomotive on display in Paul Bunyan’s Forest Camp to tiny glass trade beads.

Our collection is a combination of pieces from the former Redding Museum of Art and History, The Forest Museum, and objects donated to Turtle Bay since our 1997 museum merge.

William Keith Canyon View – Shasta 1878 1995.38.1 Purchase funded by the McConnell Foundation

We sometimes joke that Turtle Bay is Redding’s attic. The collection reflects our area’s rich history, as well as the history and missions of the institutions that assembled it, which makes it easy to build regionally-themed exhibitions using our own objects. For example, Turtle Bay owns nearly 1,000 Native American baskets and basketry-related items. Of those, over 500 are from Northern California. Our 2014 exhibition, Native Baskets from Northern California, featured 375 of these.

Wintu Burden Basket 1976.14.9 Museum Purchase

The collection is a public resource. While our objects are stored in an off-site facility, they are not “invisible,” and anyone can make an appointment to view items of interest. Researchers frequently access the collection and supporting documents for a myriad of projects such as scholarly publications, conference presentations, and object comparison and identification. We also lend our collection to other institutions. For example, the Wintu Cultural Center in the City of Shasta Lake borrowed over 40 of our Native American objects for their museum opening in September 2013.

Our Ansel Adams Masterworks collection, exhibited in our Art Gallery in 2002 and 2012, is a traveling exhibition that tours the country earning money to support the Collections and Exhibits Department and spreading the word about Turtle Bay.

Quilts and Spinning Wheel from the collection on exhibition in Quilted: Past Present and Future in 2012

Our collection is a living, breathing representation of who we are in our region. We collect, preserve, and interpret our objects for current audiences and for future generations. As a public institution, Turtle Bay is legally and ethically bound to care for every object entrusted to the Permanent Collection through donation or sale. The museum is not currently accepting new donations because we are out of the space required to store new acquisitions correctly.

Check back next month for another update from Collections and Exhibitions and a more in-depth look at our Native American basket collection.


The vault is always open!

Julia Pennington Cronin

Curator of Collections & Exhibits

Follow me @curatrixjulia