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$190,000 exhibit hall opens to the public Friday at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve in Hillsboro.

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Lori Prince stands before a two-story tall mural at the new Jackson Bottom Wetlands Education Center on Hillsboro Highway.After months of work, a makeover at Jackson Bottom is ready for its closeup.

This week, Hillsboro's Jackson Bottom Wetlands Education Center reopens its exhibit hall to the public, with a new interactive experience for nature lovers looking to learn more about Hillsboro's largest wetland and the Tualatin River watershed.

The space is a fresh take on the building's original exhibit, which stood at the education center, 2600 S.W. Hillsboro Highway, for more than a decade.

"The old exhibit was well-loved," said Lori Prince, outdoor recreation manager at the wetlands. "The space hadn't seen any improvements since the education center opened its doors in 2003."

The exhibit space tells the story of not only the Jackson Bottom Wetlands, but the important role it plays in the larger ecological picture, Prince said.

"(Jackson Bottom) is a very important place, but it's only one piece of the greater watershed," she said. "Sometimes people don't realize they are a piece in the puzzle. We want to educate, engage and inspire people to understand what a gem we have here in Hillsboro — and realize it is only a piece of this 712-square-mile watershed."

The city has been planning the $190,000 exhibit for more than four years, said Prince. She said the exhibit offers a new perspective to the wetland people may be unfamiliar with.

"This is a community resource," Prince said. "We wanted to get the community to interact with it. It took a lot of love and thoughtfulness to figure out how to do all of this."

By far the largest piece of the new exhibit is the two-story tall, 28-foot-long mural, which depicts the Tualatin River watershed, from its beginnings in rural Washington County to downtown Portland and the Tualatin's confluence with the Willamette River.

The new exhibit, which opens to the public Friday, is all about being hands-on, Prince said, with plenty of lights and sounds for people to play with.

"People love to be able to crawl and play and touch things," she said. "They loved how much the old exhibit was interactive."

The Jackson Bottom Education Center is a popular stop for school field trips, drawing thousands of visitors each year, Prince said.

"When the kids are in here, they dive right in and play and play," said Hillsboro parks spokeswoman Mary Loftin.

One piece of the old exhibit hasn't left: the large bald eagle's nest which served as the centerpiece of the room.

The nest, the only one of its kind on display in the continental United States, was abandoned by eagles in Fernhill Wetlands in Forest Grove. The nest, along with a beaver dam also on display, help showcase the types of animals people are likely to find in the wetland, Prince said.

"We wanted to call attention to the animals, the plants, the history of the wetland," she said. "This is a super dynamic watershed."

Phase Two of the project, a $20,000 addition to the exhibit — featuring another large mural and additions to the education center's lobby — is in the works, Prince said.

"The timeline for that is based on how successful we are generating the remaining funds," she said.

Prince sees the new exhibit as a bookend to the experiences people have exploring Jackson Bottom.

"People either come here to get inspired about the watershed and then they go out and enjoy Jackson Bottom, or they come back from the wetland with questions and are looking for opportunities to engage," she said.



By Geoff Pursinger
Associate Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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