When you walk into the renovated South Cumberland State Park Visitor Center in Monteagle, you’ll see engaging and interactive displays: Rocks and skulls on a “touch table,” a new wildflower exhibit, an updated pioneer cabin with coonskin caps and pioneer bonnets to wear, a new mural of the park, and a computer screen attached to a microscope. What you won’t see, yet, is a display of the mammals, birds, reptiles and other animals that live in the park.
The Friends have spent the last year-and-a-half working on revamping the 1980s-era Visitor Center and its exhibits. The new theme for the exhibits centers around pages from a South Cumberland naturalist’s journal, thanks to the artistry of Mary Priestley. In 2016, the Friends received a generous grant from the South Cumberland Community Fund which funded a new series of field trips to the Visitor Center for area school children, and earmarked funds for completing renovation of the exhibits, including one on wildlife.
A subcommittee of the Friends’ Education and Outreach Committee has been researching other park visitor centers to get ideas for this project. Among the approaches to wildlife exhibits are murals that show animals in their native habitat; traditional (taxidermy-style) animals in dioramas; lifelike puppets and stuffed animals that children can play with; recorded bird calls, connected to photographs of the featured bids; plaster trees that kids can climb through, with animals nestled in the knot-holes; and a variety of animal eggs, nests, plaster-cast footprints, skulls and simulated scat.
For a number of reasons, wildlife exhibits are often some of the most expensive exhibits to assemble; so several key questions must be addressed: Do we rely on principally on photographs and artwork? Should we provide realistic, three dimensional replicas that sit behind plexiglas, or opt for more touchable, but less authentic, animal models? Should we make use of high-tech, touchscreen-type exhibits to provide a more interactive experience?
Do you have ideas? Great exhibits you’ve seen? Suggestions for resources? Objects or funds you might donate? We’d love to hear from you! Give us your thoughts using the form at left. Thank you!