Hanford Reach center tours starting soon

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldMarch 3, 2013 

The Hanford Reach Interpretive Center won't open its doors until next year, but residents and tourists will be able to explore its themes long before that through a series of guided tours the center is launching this spring.

The tours will touch on everything from the Mid-Columbia's natural history to its flora and fauna, agriculture and hydropower. They fit with the Reach center's mission of education, said Lisa Toomey, chief executive officer.

"While we're working on bricks and mortar, we're going to be delivering. We're going to deliver programs that we hope the community will embrace," Toomey told the Herald.

The full schedule, with dates and prices, is on the Reach's website, www.visitthereach.org.

There's a variety. Among the highlights:

-- Three separate tours focusing on the ice age floods that shaped the region, including one tour that will serve as a professional development opportunity for teachers.

-- A jet boat trip to Sacajawea State Park, a pass through the locks at Ice Harbor Dam and stops at Broetje Orchards and a Boise Cascade tree farm.

-- A hike led by naturalists who'll provide expertise on the birds and flowers.

-- A tour showing "the system of beer from hops to bottle" with visits to hop fields, a drying plant and the American Hop Museum in Toppenish among the stops.

-- A three-course progressive dinner featuring wineries and local chefs.

One of the ice age flood tours will stop at the Sustainable Agriculture and Energy (SAGE) Center opening this summer in Boardman.

The tours will help ramp up excitement for the long-awaited Reach center, planned for the west end of Columbia Park.

Toomey said the site work should begin soon and construction is to start in mid-April -- almost two months earlier than planned. The center is to include two galleries, a film viewing room, a multipurpose room, office space, a store and a great hall looking out on the Columbia River.

Officials envision the center as the first building on the Reach campus.

Cathleen Williams, who's worked in the tour industry more than 20 years, helped develop the program and will lead many of the tours. On some tours, other experts in fields such as geology will come along.

Transportation and meals will be included.

The tours will last four to eight hours. A series of dates is set, but the Reach also can run customized tours for groups.

Reach officials sought input from educators, federal partners such as the National Park Service and the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau as they developed the program.

Holly Siler, the visitor bureau's director of convention sales, said the all-inclusive nature of the tours -- with guides, transportation and meals set up in advance -- will make them appealing to groups visiting the Tri-Cities for conventions and events.

"Gone are the days where (visitors) show up, stay in a box and leave," she said. More and more, event planners are looking for additional "unique experiences" in the communities playing host to their events, she said.

The Reach plans to continue offering tours once the building opens next year.

"We get to be a museum without walls before we open," said Stephanie Button, Reach program and education coordinator. "And then once we open, we'll be a museum beyond our walls."

Officials are viewing the first round as a chance to learn what works and what participants are looking for in excursions.

The goal is to expand themes that visitors will find inside the building. "We're looking at these tours," Toomey said, "as an opportunity to drill down -- to either introduce or reintroduce folks to these wonderful aspects of our community and region."

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