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Thursday, April 2, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho Voices

Museum offers trip through area’s past

Rick Justus and Daylon Orr, 13, check out the new “Observing North Idaho’s Forest Dynamics” exhibit at the North Idaho Museum  recently. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Rick Justus and Daylon Orr, 13, check out the new “Observing North Idaho’s Forest Dynamics” exhibit at the North Idaho Museum recently. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Geri Mccroskey

School’s out! Are the kids bored already and complaining there is nothing to do? Economizing? No trip planned to faraway places this summer?

Try another kind of adventure, one close to home that won’t cost an arm and a leg. Collect the family, maybe the neighbor kids too, pack a picnic basket and gather around a shady table at Coeur d’Alene Park.

Your adventure, a journey into our past, will begin after lunch and a short walk across the grass to a ground-hugging building housing the Museum of North Idaho, which sits close to the point where Northwest Boulevard joins up with Sherman Avenue.

Did steam donkeys eat hay? Was claim-jumping a track and field event? Can a tree tell time? You will find answers to these questions and more as you check out the museum’s displays, plus you get to be a traveler in a time machine.

What’s important about this? We are losing more of the tangible reminders of our history, and, in a sense, we lose track of who we are. The great lumber mills that lined lake and river have disappeared, replaced by shopping centers, condos and houses. Gone are the railroads, both steam and electric, and the sleek steamers that plied the lake carrying passengers and goods now lie beneath its waters, visited only by fish and divers. No trace remains of the amusement park that attracted fun-seekers to the grassy landfill we call Independence Point.

The Museum of North Idaho has preserved the history of all this and more. Once you are through the doors, turn to the left and begin with the permanent collection. Live the awesome story of the great floods that rampaged out of Lake Missoula at the end of the Ice Age, changing the landscape of the Pacific Northwest forever.

Learn about the native peoples who hunted the forests and fished the streams long before trappers, missionaries, miners and settlers arrived. Photographs and text and handwork, including a pair of beaded baby moccasins, provide a glimpse of their lives.

Move on to a replica of a forest fire lookout. Imagine spending a summer on a mountaintop in this roughly 10-foot-by-10-foot building, scanning the forests below for that telltale trace of smoke. And how would it have been to sleep in a bunkhouse on a rough, wooden bed, cushioned by straw?

Further on is the re-creation of an early 1900s kitchen, dominated by a black, cast-iron, nickel-plated, wood cookstove. With a little imagination one can almost smell the cinnamon and apples of a pie baking in the oven. Also on display are antique rifles, an ore car filled with the rich ore mined in the Silver Valley and saws, both cross-cut and round.

After seeing the permanent collection, it’s time to move on to this year’s special feature, which occupies the lobby and an adjoining room.

Each year, museum Director Dorothy Dahlgren and volunteers assemble a special exhibit, featuring a part of the region’s history. Past exhibits have focused on the role in development played by railroads, cars and flight.

Dahlgren emphasizes that this year’s offering, “Observing Idaho’s Forest Dynamics,” does not focus on environmentalism, but rather, through pictures, text and artifacts, the museum presents a learning experience about a changing landscape and the things that changed it – fire, logging and disease. The story includes recognizable names from the past: Frederick Weyerhaeuser, Charles Brown, William Deary, Edward Rutledge and Frederick Blackwell, along with the nameless loggers themselves. Women – Marianne Hensley, Alida Sverdsten, Mary Winkler, Edith Morgan and Ruth Hoershgen – donned jeans and became players in what, traditionally, was a man’s world. Marianne Hensley’s aluminum hard hat is included in the display.

According to the exhibit, Western white pine with its long, slender cones, was the dominant species in the region prior to settlement but events outside North Idaho would bring change. By the beginning of the twentieth century pine forests of the East Coast and Midwest had been “cut out.”

Consequently, lumbermen looked west to what must have seemed like an endless supply.

But from 1900 on, intensive harvesting of this valuable wood changed the makeup of the forests as white pine was replaced by more fire-prone trees, particularly Douglas fir.

After World War II other more fire tolerant tree species, ponderosa pine and Western larch, became more economically valuable and were removed in greater quantities, further altering tree species and the makeup of the forests.

Today deliberate change is under way as the Forest Service seeks to accelerate the planting of the fire-resistant species. The agency also is establishing experimental forests to study the best ways of harvesting and regenerating the Western White Pine.

Before you leave the museum, check out the books for sale. They offer a wealth of information about North Idaho’s past – the lore of the place where we live. One book that will take you on more journeys of adventure is “Roads Less Traveled” by Dorothy Dahlgren and Simone Kincaid. This handy book can help you plan interesting, single-day trips with mileage the budget can handle.

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