ILWACO - "We're feeling really optimistic," said Ilwaco Heritage Museum (IHM) Director Nancey Olson when asked recently about the future of the institution. "We feel kind of energized and hopeful about things. It just seems like when you start to have that kind of attitude, things just kind of come your way."

It's safe to say that right now, both for Olson and the IHM, things are going their way. Olson, who served as superintendent of the Ocean Beach School District for four years, ending in 2002, recently shed the interim label as director for the museum after coming on board in September after the departure of long-time Director Hobe Kytr. And the museum itself is seeing some exciting things happen both inside and outside its walls.

Olson said they have begun doing some small improvement projects around the museum, like painting the main hall and refinishing the wood floors.

"It makes your place look more inviting," she said.

Olson said they will also be doing some renovation to the back of the museum, where their artifacts are kept, as well as some in the front of the IHM as well. They are also currently working with the Peninsula Model Railroad Club to renovate the model railroad located upstairs. The IHM will also be offering Sunday hours, starting in April.

"We haven't been open on Sundays in quite a while," said Olson. "We thought that was a day when a lot of people want someplace to go, find things to do and to be closed on Sunday just didn't make sense to us."

When asked about her new job, Olson said that one of the most important things, as relayed to her by the museum's board of directors, is the management of grants.

"Like most museums, you survive on getting grants for different projects," she said.

They are currently in the midst of a grant-funded project to build a memorial park and garden on the backside of the museum. Olson said the IHM has been named an official site on the Lewis and Clark trail because apparently the Corps of Discovery walked across the IHM property while traveling to the beach. According to Olson, there apparently was an ancient Native American trail that was followed by the explorers that went across the property.

The park will feature a landscaped garden and will honor local fishermen who have lost their lives at sea, the Chinook Indian tribe and Lewis and Clark.

"The theme is water, or living and traveling on the water and survival, or not, on the water," she said. "So we're trying to honor all three groups. With the historic garden we're putting in native plant species and trees that were documented in the Lewis and Clark journals."

The project is being supported by grant money from the Templin Foundation, Washington State Historical Society, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Pacific County and the city of Ilwaco. The total price tag will be around $100,000.

Museum in the hunt for grant fundsThe operation of the IHM is also dependent on grants. The museum receives an annual grant from the county, culled from the lodging tax, that pays for basic amenities like power and water. They get a grant from the city of Ilwaco to help promote tourism through advertising.

"The Templin Foundation has always been very generous to us. They helped with the train courtyard," Olson said.

Aside from grants, flow of money from admissions to the IHM and exhibits are also vital.

"Which means we have to get visitors through the doors," Olson said. "We have to make sure our book shop is attractive and has things people want to buy."

Winter is a slow time, as it is for every business on the Peninsula, but Olson said the key is having interesting things going on. She touted their new exhibit on how Lewis and Clark have been reflected in the media as being a draw for them the last few months.

"People have used the Lewis and Clark name on a variety of products and ways to sell things - some appropriate and some not," she said of the exhibit, which has garnered high praise from many, including the Oregonian.

The exhibit will be at the museum through 2006, though they will take it down for a few months in order to host another in its place. But it will return next fall during the bicentennial.

Lewis and Clark exhibits add excitementOlson was very excited about another bicentennial-related exhibit they will have in October and November this year, "The Rivers of Lewis and Clark," which will document all the rivers traveled on by the Corps of Discovery.

"It's a very interactive exhibit. It's 2,300 square feet," she said. "We're very excited about that. It's been mostly at large venues in larger cities. We're just really excited to get it. We know that people will come to see that."

Another upcoming exhibit is, Washington Public Ports Association traveling exhibit, "Ports: Your Vital Link" in March and April.

"The better exhibits we have, the more people will come back," Olson said. "If you just have a static exhibit space where nothing ever changes, you're not going to get a continuous flow through the door."

Other things they are trying as a way to improve the frequency of visitors to the IHM include opening the building up as an event space. A few weeks ago the museum played host to a Valentine's Day dance. In March the IHM will be the site of the annual Peninsula Quilt Guild show, and the American Association of University Women will hold their state convention there April 15-17. Olson also reminded that the museum is available to rent for events.

Olson said the museum definitely isn't making money, but they're not doing too bad either. She said that as a non-profit organization they tend to walk a fine line between getting by and struggling.

"We have to work hard to keep it up and running," she said. "We have some investments that we have to dip into once in a while, but we're working hard to make it."

But she praised the IHM board as being "very active," and involved, as well as the volunteers who help operate the museum.

"They don't just come to meetings. They paint, and help decorate for dances and raise funds and fix the electricity and whatever needs to happen," she said. "Without our volunteers we probably wouldn't keep the doors open. We need a lot more."

To find out more information about volunteering at the Ilwaco Heritage Museum, or about current and upcoming exhibits, please call: 642-3446.

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