Citing a “lack of authenticity,” the National Park Service will no longer support a Seaside Museum and Historical Society signature program.
SEASIDE, Ore. (AP) — The Seaside Museum and Historical Society is scrambling to find new support for “The Saltmakers Return to Seaside,” the museum’s signature historical program, after the National Park Service pulled out as a sponsor because the event lacked authenticity.
Tita Montero, vice president of the museum’s board of directors, said the program would be suspended until new partnership could be found.
Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, affiliated with the National Park Service, will no longer help present the event, park superintendent Scott Tucker said last week.
Tucker said the event’s “lack of authenticity” and inability to meet “National Park Service standards for first-person interpretation” were the main reasons the government agency terminated its involvement.
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The program is also expensive, especially since it is not held on National Park Service property, Tucker said. Faced with dwindling budgets, the agency cannot afford to use human resources and funds to be a partner for the event.
In January 1806, after the Corps of Discovery settled into Fort Clatsop, a detachment came down to Seaside with Capt. William Clark to make salt to preserve food for the winter and the trip back to the United States. “The Saltmakers Return to Seaside” recreated the experience, providing an interactive opportunity for people to learn about the explorers.
The museum, in partnership with the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, started the program in 2001. The presentation was held on the beach in Seaside and typically attracted about 2,000 people a year.
“First-person interpretation is extremely difficult, and it is rarely done within the National Park Service because it takes historically accurate interpreters to do the programming,” Tucker said.
Volunteer program manager and park ranger Sally Freeman agreed, adding the National Park Service needs interpreters who resemble the historical figures and can accurately portray them through training and research.
“It’s a huge challenge,” she said.
Until last year, the museum contracted with interpreters from the Pacific Northwest Living Historians. They dressed in period costume to portray members of the expedition as they made salt from seawater for visitors over a 48-hour time period. Technically the interpreters volunteered for the park service, though, so they could fall under the agency’s liability insurance. The arrangement was “an awkward piece” that should have been identified as problematic 10 years ago “and wasn’t,” Tucker said.
The event was designed so visitors would feel they actually were entering the Corps of Discovery’s encampment in 1806. They could even barter with time period-appropriate items.
“We asked people to transport themselves and their minds to the camp,” Freeman said.
However, it was determined through discussions last year that the Pacific Northwest Living Historians no longer could physically “represent the Corps of Discovery in the first-person” in a historically accurate way and had not recruited new members to step into those roles, Tucker said.
Last year, the program turned into a one-day event, and National Park Service rangers provided a third-person representation, with interpreters dressed in period costume but not trying to play specific historical figures, Freeman said.
The National Park Service invited the Pacific Northwest Living Historians to participate in the third-person interpretation event, but they declined.
“It seemed like it went just as well that way,” Freeman said.
The agency does not plan to continue as a partner for The Saltmakers Return, even as a third-person interpretive event, Tucker said.
“It’s too cost-prohibitive for a one-day program,” he said, adding the park also discontinued its own first-person living history program, called “Wintering Over,” held annually the weekend before Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The national park will seek opportunities to work with the museum on cost-effective programs that highlight Seaside’s historical significance and connection to the Corps of Discovery expedition.
Without going through the National Park Service, the Seaside Museum cannot provide liability insurance for volunteers for an event like the Saltmakers, Montero said. Additionally, the museum’s own volunteer population is aging, she said.
“This program needs new people” if it’s going to continue, said Montero, who also serves on the Seaside City Council. “It’s a very labor-intensive program.”
Rather than letting the program struggle and “slide downhill slowly,” the museum board decided “it’s much better in our mind to stop and regroup,” Montero said.