WALLA WALLA -- Fort Walla Walla Museum has opened its doors early for the season, a major step on the path to becoming a year-round attraction.
Through March 31, the Myra Road museum will be open weekdays 10 a.m.-4 p.m. with access to the Grand Hall, upper-level Exhibit Halls, Headquarters Art Gallery and Research Library and the Museum Store. The regular visitation season begins April 1. Hours then will expand to 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.
The opening early this year comes on the heels of a successful 2010 season in which the museum extended its operating season through December.
"This may have been the last time we ever have a major break," said Paul Franzmann, the museum's communications manager.
About 30 new or updated exhibits are in the works for the coming year, though access to those now may be slightly limited compared to the regular season, Franzmann said.
With work still in progress on the displays, visitors might not be able to see everything every day, he said. On the other hand, they may get a peek at the behind-the-scenes work that goes into putting exhibits together. "If you ask me, that's kind of a cool thing," he said.
A year-round operation has been the goal of the museum for years, Franzmann said Tuesday. The door to that goal has been opened over the last year with the $2.7 million construction of its new Entrance Building and Exhibit Hall.
Franzmann said the Entrance Building, a cornerstone of other improvements still to come at the museum that celebrates Walla Walla's historic Army fort days, is now the official gateway to the museum. Before, guests entered the museum through a separate gift shop that closed during the off-season.
But now with the Museum Store located in the new Entrance Building the larger operation is staffed even in the off-season and the buildings are no longer disjointed. Plus, Franzmann said, the operation this time of year is much more of an indoor experience anyway.
"We figured seeing as how we're here and working we might as well be open," he said.
The idea to open to the public was hammered home even more Tuesday, when drop-in guests included a home-school family of four that traveled up from Hermiston, among others.
With the winter months typically a slower time of year for visitors, Franzmann said museum operators have no prediction for attendance. "We don't have any playbook for this," he said. "We've always been closed."
The regular season opening in April will include a display of more than 50 Plateau Indian patriotic beadwork items and a fine art exhibit by Walla Walla Norman Adams.
In August, the museum's annual heritage quilt festival will be in place and feature a sampling from the collection that holds more than 90 quilts. A Christmas exhibit from less hectic times will be featured in the winter. Other exhibits: a series of fine art shows, including work from local artist Randy Klassen and the Northwest Sisters in Art. The latter will come in time for the Women's History Celebration/Ice Cream Social in late August. The museum's fifth annual Fort Walla Walla Days will take place June 11-12, and two Kid Camps are slated for June 20 and July 19.
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8321.
If You Go
Fort Walla Walla Museum operates 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays. The cost is $7 for adults; $6 for those 62 and older; $3 for children 6-12; and free for kids under 6.