Air museum programs now run at two sites

Trust's events move to Pearson Field; feds add activities

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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The future of Vancouver's embattled aviation museum is still up in the air, with mediation talks now underway. But educators are glad that some school-focused programs made an emergency landing at the adjacent airport.

Cyndy Hagin, a science teacher at Vancouver's McLoughlin Middle School, said she had some qualms in February when the National Park Service took over management of Pearson Air Museum.

The historic aviation center had been a valuable resource; it offered hands-on learning opportunities for her students — particularly for those interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects.

Marlin Martin, a faculty member at Washington State University Vancouver, had used the air museum for several years in his teacher-education courses.

Then negotiations on a management agreement for the site broke down in February. The Park Service — which owns the land but didn't own the museum's contents — took over the site from the city of Vancouver and the Fort Vancouver National Trust, which had managed the museum for the city since 2005.

Hagin said that she'd already set up her class visit to Pearson when the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site took over operation of the museum, 1005 E. Fifth St.

Hagin wondered whether she would be able to take her class to its session.

She did, although her class wound up at Pearson Field. Trust officials moved the program to a nearby airport hangar, and reopened it under a new name: the Pearson Field Education Center.

The Park Service has been using Pearson Air Museum for its own displays since then. It's logged more than 10,000 visitors in six months — although two special-event days account for more than a third of that total.

The Fort Vancouver National Trust held its annual recognition event for the Pearson education program a few days ago, recognizing everybody who kept it going through the transition.

"We made some physical adjustments," said Elson Strahan, executive director of the National Trust. "In terms of programming, we didn't have to reduce the scope or quality."

One of the most recent public programs was the "Open Cockpit Day" a month ago.

Mediation has started

At just about the same time as the recognition event, the three parties involved in the museum management debate -- the National Park Service, the city of Vancouver and the Fort Vancouver National Trust -- issued an announcement that mediation had started.

The statement said: "We are in the middle of mediation sessions. We are using a neutral third party mediator to discuss issues related to Pearson Air Museum and the Historic Reserve partnership. We are making progress on the issues and plan to keep meeting."

Little additional information was provided by the participants, which all cited a nondisclosure agreement.

The mediation included some telephone conversations that led up to the recent neutral-site session with the Portland-based mediator.

"We will meet again, but there is no defined end point," said Jan Bader, program and policy development manager for the city of Vancouver.

Another player in the dispute is U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, who wrote a bill to transfer the museum and surrounding 7 acres from the Park Service to the city of Vancouver.

Spokesman Casey Bowman recapped Herrera Beutler's position in an email.

Her bill was approved by the House Natural Resources Committee, "but she hasn't been pushing it while giving mediation every opportunity to succeed. Jaime's goal all along has been to restore the Air Museum Complex to the local community, and she would prefer that happen through compromise. However, she stands ready to again start to actively push the bill and get it scheduled on the House floor, if needed."

For Hagin, the McLoughlin Middle School science teacher, her students' Pearson experience was more about people than property. For her, the education center's new home in a Pearson Field hangar has worked out fine.

"They're good about putting people together," Hagin said, referring to the sponsors and volunteers in the National Trust's aviation education program.

Summer camp funding

One boy in her class was tabbed for a scholarship to a Pearson summer camp, Hagin said. And just to even things up, sponsors asked if there was a girl in Hagin's class who might like attending the camp; they provided a scholarship for her, too.

Martin, an adjunct professor at WSUV, said that he's been using Pearson education programs to teach elementary-school science methods for eight or nine years.

"My students are college juniors who will be elementary-school teachers," Martin said. "Pearson gives me a place to develop hands-on projects" that his WSUV students eventually will share with their own grade-schoolers.

After the National Trust vacated the museum in February, most of the aviation-related artifacts — including vintage aircraft — were removed.

For the curators at Fort Vancouver, the acquisition of Pearson Air Museum has provided some exhibit space. The national park has an extensive living-history program in its replica stockade, focusing on the fur-trade era. But many artifacts in its collection, representing the last century or so at Vancouver Barracks, had never been displayed before.

One of the exhibits features a World War I production center here that milled up to a million board-feet of aviation-grade spruce a day.

Tracy Fortmann, superintendent of Fort Vancouver National Site, said in an email that the Park Service has worked with other museums and national parks in developing other exhibits currently on display. An exhibit on the Army Air Corps includes artifacts on loan from the Smithsonian's collection.

More than 10,000 people visited Pearson Air Museum in its first six full months (March through August) under Park Service management, which includes free admission; 3,018 of them visited on July 4, when the annual Independence Day celebration brought thousands of people to the Historic Reserve. The next-busiest of the 108 days on the Park Service's museum attendance log was 609 visitors on June 8 — which also was National Get Outdoors Day at the Historic Site.