Decade later, still no Forest museum

By Bob Frye Capital Correspondent

Tionesta, Pa. — In 1996, the world lost Gene Kelly, the actor
famous for his work in “Singin’ in the Rain,” but gained Dolly the
sheep, the world’s first cloned animal. The Whitewater scandal
involving Bill Clinton was in full bloom. And the Pittsburgh
Steelers lost, rather than won, a Super Bowl.

That was also the year Doug Carlson embarked on a long
journey.

Executive director of the Forest County Planning Commission and
Conservation District, Carlson agreed to serve on a committee
devoted to creating a Hunting and Fishing Museum of Pennsylvania.
Planners hoped to build the facility on an island in the Allegheny
River in Tionesta.

Well, it’s 2006, and Dolly is gone, Hillary and not Bill is the
Clinton in office, and the Steelers finally have that one for the
thumb, but Carlson still doesn’t have his museum.

The good news is that he may get it yet, and sooner rather than
later. A ceremonial groundbreaking for the museum was held Aug. 19
on Lighthouse Island, the flat 22-acre land mass in the middle of
the Allegheny River that will hold the facility.

That doesn’t necessarily mean its doors are going to open any
time soon. The museum board has not yet raised all of the $12
million or so it needs to construct the 25,000-square-foot
building, secure exhibits, and fund an endowment needed to
guarantee its long-term operation.

The board has about $7 million in hand, however, and plans to
start building while fund-raising continues, said the museum’s
executive director, Julia McCray. The plan is to start construction
of the main museum building in spring of 2007. It could open as
early as spring of 2008.

If that opening day is still a long time in coming, that’s
understandable, Carlson admitted. He said that he and the other
members of the museum board have been told by others in the
industry that the process of birthing a museum is often a
decade-long process, at least.

“This is very typical for the timing of museums, from what we’ve
been told,” he said. “When you’re asking people to commit money to
something like this, you’ve got to have all of your ducks in a row.
Most of the last 10 years have been spent putting our ducks in a
row.”

The museum board has already partially renovated an existing
structure on Lighthouse Island that will serve as the museum’s
activity center. In time, visitors to that building will be able to
do things like tie flies, shoot an air rifle or a bow, reload a
shell, or cook wild game.

The outside of the building has been completed; the inside will
be done as soon as the $500,000 needed to finish it is available,
McCray said. She’s optimistic it will be finished in time to open
it yet this year because there has been a lot of support for the
idea of having a museum dedicated to showcasing Pennsylvania’s
hunting, fishing and trapping heritage already.

“I’m amazed that without a building to come and see, we’ve got
over 500 charter members already. I think it’s going to be very
well received,” McCray said.

Carlson said the main museum will showcase sporting equipment
manufactured in or unique to Pennsylvania. It will also shed light
on the state’s conservation history and sportsmen’s role in
supporting that.

What the museum won’t be is just a collection of dusty
taxidermy, he said.

“Where we have mounted animals and fish, that will only be to
illustrate the story,” Carlson said. “We’re trying to put more
people into the picture. The process of hunting and fishing is the
part of the story that’s not being told.”

Projections are that the completed museum will draw 159,000
visitors a year from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, New
York, New Jersey, and Canada. All of that tourism is expected to
generate more than $19 million in spending annually, McCray
said.

That’s why J. Jack Sherman, president of the Forest County
Industrial Development Corp., is donating the land that the museum
will sit on.

“It will be a good thing to preserve the hunting and fishing
heritage in Pennsylvania,” Sherman said. “But the side of it I’m
interested in is providing a boost for the economy of the local
community. I’d like to see this happen for that reason.”

McCray said museum officials visited the SHOT Show in Las Vegas
this past winter and made contact with 100 potential corporate
sponsors. Sportsmen’s groups and state agencies also have been
approached.

None of those potential funders have committed any money to the
museum yet, but McCray believes that’s just a matter of time. The
museum will take off then, she said, and Carlson agreed.

“Once we begin building, we know there’s going to be a
reaction,” Carlson said. “Once people see that we are building, we
expect that we’ll see more private donations.”

In the meantime, anyone wanting to learn more about the Hunting
and Fishing Museum of Pennsylvania can visit its Web site at
www.huntfishmuseum.org, call (814) 755-3256, e-mail huntfishmuspa@usachoice.net,
or write The Hunting and Fishing Museum of Pa., 1 Highland St.,
Tionesta, Pa. 16353.

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