New Signage and Interpretive Exhibits

by Ali Berman, Communications & Marketing Director

Every year, 40,000 people visit our Wildlife Sanctuary to hike trails, volunteer, attend camps, shop at the Nature Store, and so much more. Some we meet, and some we may never meet. But with every single person, we have the opportunity to teach them about nature, give them a safe space to enjoy the outdoors, and inspire them to protect wildlife and their habitat.

Thanks to the many donors who helped us successfully fund this part of the capital campaign, we’re working on a complete overhaul of signage across the Bird Alliance of Oregon Wildlife Sanctuary. That means new indoor hands-on exhibits, outdoor wayfinding, and interpretive displays that teach people about native plants and wildlife, conservation, and history of the land.

Bird Alliance of Oregon monument sign

In preparation for this project, we wanted to better understand the needs of our community, and what it will take to make the space as engaging and welcoming as possible. To achieve these goals, we did a great deal of work in two areas:

Listening Sessions

We knew that if interpretive signs and exhibits were going to be used by the community, the community needed to have a big role in what went on them. We had a long list of groups we wanted to hear from, including communities of color, the disability community, kids, scientists, people over 65, birders, Bird Alliance of Oregon members, sanctuary visitors, and partner organizations. Each group not only revealed similar interests, but also shared with us specific barriers they face when visiting a natural area.

Every group highlighted that they want to better understand wildlife through help with identification, interpreting animal sign, and learning about natural history. Communities who have been historically marginalized shared what a welcoming and inclusive natural area looks and feels like to them: everything from signs with accessibility information at every trailhead, to being able to learn about the Indigenous history of the land, to multi-sensory and multilingual signs and exhibits.
This knowledge and wisdom will help us create education tools that are both fascinating and inclusive to all communities.

History of Native Uses of the Land

Bird Alliance of Oregon (then the Oregon Bird Alliance of Oregon Society) first purchased 12 acres of land in 1930. Since then it’s grown to 172 acres of protected habitat. Those 92 years account for only a fraction of the true history of the land, and this signage and interpretation project presented an important opportunity to take a much deeper look at that history. We reached out to Dr. David G. Lewis, PhD, an educator and researcher who focuses on the tribes of western Oregon and their history over the last 200 years, to see if he would help us tell that story. Dr. Lewis, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, delved into the history of the Tualatin Hills, where our sanctuary is located. He created a 40-page foundational document that gathers together information on trade and foraging uses by tribes, relocation policies that removed tribes from the land, uses of native plants and animals, and other traditional lifeways of the Tualatin (Atfalati) Kalapuyans and the Chinookan peoples of the lower Willamette (Clackamas, Clowwewalla, Cascades, and Multnomah).

This document serves multiple important purposes. In addition to being able to integrate information about Indigenous history into our new signs and displays, we’ll also be able to meaningfully bring that history into our educational programming with school groups, sanctuary tours, and camps.
This research is long overdue, and we’re grateful to Dr. Lewis for working with us to tell the more complete story of the land and the people who have inhabited it since time immemorial.

Using the information from the listening sessions and Dr. Lewis’s work, we have now hired Portland-based firm Sea Reach to bring our vision to life. Sea Reach’s portfolio includes exciting displays and signage around the country, as well as right here at home at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve and Powell Butte Nature Park. Our knowledgeable staff will work hand in hand with Sea Reach to create compelling educational exhibits that introduce people to the wildlife, habitat, and forest we all care about so much. The work will take approximately a year to complete, from concept to fabrication and installation. We can’t wait to show you our transformed space in late 2023!