GERING – As the Scotts Bluff National Monument celebrates its 100th anniversary all year long, they have partnered with Legacy of the Plains Museum to host an exhibit commemorating its centennial.
The exhibit, “100 Years of Scotts Bluff National Monument,” details the history and culture of the monument, complete with an original soap box derby car, an adobe brick made by the Civilian Conservation Corps, historical photographs, interpretive displays and William Henry Jackson prints originally housed in the Visitors Center.
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Olivia Garl, curator at Legacy of the Plains, said the partnership was an easy choice to make. She knew this year was going to a big one for the monument and decided to create an exhibit last year.
“It’s important to the area and local history,” Garl said. “With the construction at the visitors center, we thought we could do a partnership to celebrate their history and give our take on it.”
National Park Ranger Kayla Gasker said the partnership is a good one because it creates the opportunity to showcase the monument and the museum.
“We don’t have room in our temporary center and we hope to draw people from here at the monument to the museum,” Gasker said. “The museum has great exhibits and displays regarding the area and this allows us to highlight both.”
Gasker especially liked the fact the museum was able to display 12 William Henry Jackson prints.
“We don’t have room at our temporary visitors center to display them,” Gasker said. “There are so many things he contributed to the monument while he was still alive.”
Jackson’s paintings depicted life on the trail. He has a number of paintings of Scotts Bluff and the surrounding area and made camp in the shadow of the monument in 1866.
Garl made sure to highlight a letter stating the monument wasn’t important to preserve because it was just a “bump of land” and the response from the custodian.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs — the Civil Works Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps and Public Works Administration — all participated in building the monument. They built the tunnels and the buildings and helped to make the monument what it is today.
“When those programs came here, it was a big deal, especially the CCC,” Garl said. “They were also at Mitchell, Bayard and the Wildcat Hills providing an opportunity for young men.”
Garl chose to highlight those programs because they built all the structures and were essential in getting the work done.
The soap box derby car was of particular interest to Garl because when the soap box derby ran, the winner received a paid trip to Akron, Ohio.
“That’s where the national championship was located,” Garl said. “It’s also where I’m from, so I thought that was cool.”
Garl has taken the temporary exhibit room and created an exhibit that tells the entire story of the monument and how it has changed over the years. There are also a few tidbits visitors will learn along the way, such as 2008 was the first time in 12 years you could cross country ski at the monument because there was so much snow. No one has been able to do that since. There are also other interesting facts, including a scrap metal campaign and visits from airmen from the nearby air force base.
Garl said the great thing about national park sites is that each one is different and has something unique to offer. From hiking to history to cultural events, the monument has been an integral part of the community for more than 100 years. It was the local community and politicians who helped preserve it and the monument remains a part of the community today.
“It’s been a lot of fun to put together,” Garl said. “I loved looking at the facts and learning more about the monument.”
The exhibit, “100 Years of Scotts Bluff National Monument,” is now open to the public and is free through September. Regular museum admission is required for the main gallery. Legacy of the Plains Museum is open Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information about Scotts Bluff National Monument, please call 308-436-9701 or visit http://www.nps.gov/scbl.