Agriculture is essential to the story of the Mid-Columbia, and an exhibit highlighting its importance will be part of the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center set to open this summer.
The exhibit will be in the entry hall, greeting visitors when they walk through the doors.
It's a fitting location, said Terry Marie Fleischman, co-chairwoman of the Mid-Columbia Ag Hall of Fame, which is collaborating on the exhibit with Reach officials.
"Who we are today, where we are today in the Tri-Cities" is due in large part to the local agriculture industry and its pioneers, Fleischman said. "When you walk in, that story is being told. That's who we are."
The Ag Hall of Fame was created by the Port of Pasco and the Pasco Chamber of Commerce.
The exhibit is to be built in phases as fundraising comes together. The total price tag is estimated at $150,000.
Fundraising so far has brought in $37,000 -- enough to cover the first phase and make a dent in the total needed for the second phase.
If another $38,000 is raised by March 1, the exhibit will open at the Phase 2 level.
If not, it will open at the Phase 1 level and fundraising for the next two phases will go on.
The exhibit will involve a towering satellite image of the greater Mid-Columbia, showing the hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland and the federal Bureau of Reclamation's Columbia Basin Project.
The Phase 1 version has placards that will tell of the irrigation project, and a video display showcasing Mid-Columbia Ag Hall of Fame inductees and other agriculture topics, from commodities to ag technology.
The second and third phases will include fiber-optic lighting to depict the flow of the Columbia River and Columbia Basin Project's network of canals and water distribution, as well as a virtual presenter display system.
Terence Thornhill, the Pasco architect who designed the interpretive center building, is designing the exhibit.
The long-awaited Reach center is set to open in July at the west end of Columbia Park. It includes a 14,000-square-foot main level with two galleries, a multipurpose room, a DVD viewing room, offices, a store and the entry hall, which looks out on the Columbia River. The center also has a 10,000-square-foot basement.
In designing the building, Thornhill drew inspiration from the region's history. Cascading roof lines, for example, are a nod to the ice age floods that shaped the region, and stained concrete in the entry hall will show the outline of the ancient flood waters.
The interpretive center will have a permanent exhibit telling the story of the land through time, from the floods to the designation of the Hanford Reach National Monument.
A Manhattan Project exhibit will tell of Hanford's early days and its role in World War II.
Several other exhibits and features are planned, ranging from an aquarium sponsored by Bechtel to a science and technology exhibit featuring a digital planet sponsored by Battelle.
The interpretive center was designed so that it can be expanded, and additional Hanford and agriculture exhibits are among those envisioned down the road. Officials also intend to incorporate the Reach center's themes and stories into its education programming, tours and events.
Those who work in agriculture know of its importance, but the Reach exhibit will help bring the story to a wider audience, officials said.
"To have a place in the Tri-Cities where agriculture gets to shine and tell its story is important," said Valerie Moffitt, who's helping raise money for the ag exhibit.
Her father, James Hayles, was inducted into the Mid-Columbia Ag Hall of Fame in 2002.
Lisa Toomey, Reach center CEO, said "the history of agriculture in the Columbia Basin is really critical for people to understand."
"Ag is the backbone of the American economy, and it's certainly the backbone of the state of Washington," she said.
The Columbia Basin is poised to be perhaps the most important food-producing area in the country, she said.
"Not only do we want to showcase that, but we also need to protect it," she said. "The only way people can do that is if they're informed."
Donations for the agriculture exhibit can be made through the Reach Foundation. Call 943-4100 or mail checks to the Reach at 1229 Columbia Park Trail, Richland, WA 99352.
-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; email@example.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald