And after a long and sometimes rocky path to completion, the Reach center is set to debut next week in
"It's an exciting time. It's taken us so long to get here, but we're here," said
"A lot of people have formed a lot of opinions about what the Reach is and what it's going to do. I think people kind of have to reset their images by coming to visit and finding out what it really is," Raab said.
"I think they'll be impressed."
From the Ice Age floods to Hanford
The Reach center at the west end of
Its 14,000-square-foot main level includes two galleries. Gallery 1 holds an exhibit on the Hanford Reach and surrounding region through time, while Gallery 2 features an exhibit telling of the Hanford nuclear site's role in the
Other indoor features range from an exhibit highlighting the region's agricultural heritage to a digital globe and displays on topics such as hydropower.
An aquarium with
Even the center's floor is a teaching tool, with stained concrete depicting Ice Age flood waters.
The Reach's entry hall looks out on the river, and the facility also has a multipurpose room, offices, store and a 10,000-square-foot unfinished basement.
The Reach grounds include an outdoor theater and another outdoor stage, a section of a center pivot used in agriculture and other features from vegetable, plant and herb gardens to gnarly vines illustrating the roots of the region's wine industry.
Metal silhouettes of Hanford Reach wildlife line a trail winding from
Officials for years called the future facility the
The money has come from a mix of sources, ranging from federal and state money to private foundations and individual and corporate donors.
The budget for the first year of operations for now is set at
Path to completion
The effort to build the center has spanned more than a decade, starting not long after
At one point, the vision looked much different, with plans for a larger facility in a different spot --
But problems with that site arose. Native American tribes in the region objected because of the cultural and spiritual significance of the grounds, and rigorous federal permitting requirements loomed. Fundraising also slowed as the recession set in.
Public confidence in the project dipped, but momentum has grown in recent years with the shift to the new site at
She said it's humbling and exciting to be on the verge of opening. Its debut will mean delivery on a promise years in the making, she said.
And more is in store. A master plan envisions four additions, each 3,000 to 5,000 square feet, to be built as funding comes together.
"We'll continue to expand exhibits and storytelling with or without more space," Toomey said.
Key priorities after opening will be to finish the basement to use as storage, curation and display space and to expand Gallery 1 to tell a more complete story of the Hanford site, she said.
The space about to open "is a great place to start. Already we have a lot of ideas about new stories. Once we open our doors, we'll be thinking about what's next," Toomey said.
"I really think this is just the beginning, and there's so much more to come."
Leaders envision the Reach as a community hub -- a bustling, vibrant resource and attraction.
It will be a place for theater and concerts. For hands-on educational activities. A starting point for exploration of the Reach monument and region.
A place that encourages learning for all ages through initiatives and programs, and also one that inspires creativity and imagination.
"We want everyone in the Tri-Cities and the surrounding region to really feel like this is their place," said
Right now, "we're kind of the best kept secret," she told the Herald. "But we're about to get very loud. That's what we want to be -- we want to be loud and exciting and fun. We want people to say, 'You should go to the Reach.'"
Watkins, who's part of the
The Reach has about 10 full- and part-time employees and numerous volunteers.
Inside the Reach on a recent afternoon, Toomey sat near a large window overlooking the
The aquarium was stocked. Displays and exhibits were installed. Workers buzzed about, putting on finishing touches.
Toomey said she sees the Reach, with its long journey to fruition, as a reflection of the resiliency of the community -- a community that has been touched by everything from flood waters to a world war.
The Reach project has faced challenges, but, "We found a way. We found a way," she said.
"And it's beautiful."
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