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Castle Rock Exhibit Hall to close after 23 years

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The Castle Rock Exhibit Hall, located at 147 Front Ave. SW, will be closing May 31 in light of decreasing volunteer staff and funding from lodging taxes.

The Castle Rock Exhibit Hall will be officially closing this Saturday after more than 23 years of preserving and displaying local history.

Brought on by a shrinking pool of volunteers to help maintain the program, as well as decreasing income from local lodging tax dollars, Exhibit Hall Society President Douglas Parker said his group had to make the difficult decision in March of shutting down the facility.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” he said of the closure of the exhibits, which have displayed local histories related to logging, the Cowlitz River and Mt. St. Helens, among other attractions, since 1991. “It’s like a death in the family.”

Most of the exhibits on display had been privately donated, said Parker, and are being returned to their original owners or their survivors, though some artifacts, such as a collection of old copies of The Advocate newspaper, are expected to remain in public ownership and may be acquired by entities such as the Castle Rock Library or the Cowlitz County Historical Museum.

He said other exhibits will remain on public display locally, such as the pelt and skull of a 212-pound cougar shot on Mt. St. Helens by a local hunter, which is expected to be entrusted by the owner to a local sporting goods store. Various souvenirs on display at the Exhibit Hall have also moved to Twice Around Treasures & Video (1316 Mt. St. Helens Way) where they remain available for purchase.

Parker added, after officially closing Saturday, the Exhibit Hall Society’s remaining funds will be donated to local non-profit groups, while those who believe they may be the owners of any remaining exhibits are encouraged to pick them up from the Exhibit Hall at 147 Front Ave. SW by this Friday.

In the mean time, it is not yet known what will become of the building currently housing the Exhibit Hall, as it will remain the property of the City of Castle Rock after the Exhibit Hall closes.

City Clerk Ryana Covington indicated May 21 there are no specific uses being pursued by officials at this time, though a number of different community groups have said they are willing to help formulate ideas.

Community organizer Nancy Chennault, with the Castle Rock Community Development Alliance, said she has been party to discussions where ideas such as a Community Center have been presented, but said nothing yet has stuck to the wall due to a lack of resources for such programs.

“There’s all kinds of things floated out there that would be awesome,” she said, “but it all depends on funding and staffing.”

It also remains unclear if the Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce will continue to hold their monthly meetings in the building, with Chamber President Bill Davis stating he has yet to hear from City Hall if the building will remain available.

“There’s no definite plans at this point,” he said, stating the chamber’s June 12 meeting may likely be held at the Castle Rock School District offices, but such decisions remain unclear.

Castle Rock has at least committed to improving the building, setting aside $10,676 of an anticipated $67,676 in Big Idea funding (lodging tax dollars collected county-wide and disbursed to one of six participating entities on a rotating basis each year) for repairs to the Exhibit Hall. Additionally, $47,000 has been set aside from the funding toward a new Visitor’s Center at Exit 49, which, along with a $170,000 county grant and roughly $30,000 in anticipated city and community resources, is expected to see construction begin this fall.

Parker said this new facility, which would replace the Visitor’s Center currently at the Exhibit Hall, was a significant factor in the Exhibit Hall Society’s decision to dissolve, stating some members are very frustrated Castle Rock did not decide to invest in a facility it already had, stating pursuit of the Exit 49 Visitor’s Center struck a demoralizing blow to the group.

“That really put the bang on us,” he said. “Some of us are really upset.”

Chennault commented, in light of these circumstance and the loss of the Exhibit Hall, she hopes to encourage the volunteers and fundraisers who have put so much time into the community, and have gone out of their way to represent Castle Rock well.

“They’re a wonderful, dedicated group of Castle Rock citizens,” she said. “Being one that volunteers, it’s hard to give it up."

One of several displays dedicated to the history of logging in the area, which continues to be an integral industry for Southwest Washington.

 

A display of old law enforcement tools, including old badges and radar guns, on loan from the Castle Rock Police Department.

 

The pelt and skull of a 212-pound cougar shot on Mt. St. Helens by a local hunter, which is expected to remain on display at a local sporting good store.

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