Guest Opinions

Ice Age floods may 'Reach' Tri-Cities

Imagine it is 15,000 B.C., and the Mid-Columbia is engulfed in a torrent of water as the great glaciers melt into voracious floods.

Now imagine not one, but multiple ice age floods, carving the landscape into what we now know as the Columbia River Valley.

The effects of the onslaught are visible throughout the Tri -Cities, from the ridges of the Horse Heaven Hills, to the vineyards and fields made fertile from the richness of glacial deposits.

Not only did the floods shape the Mid-Columbia's geography, but they also drastically altered the landscape of Western Montana, the Idaho Panhandle and Northern Oregon.

The fascinating story of the ice age floods and their profound affect on our nation's geology and natural history prompted U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings and Sen. Maria Cantwell to introduce legislation to create an Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail.

On Jan. 15, the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail was approved by the U.S. Senate as part of a larger lands package wending its way through the legislative process.

The trail, a self-guided auto route along 600 miles of existing highways and other public roads in the Northwest, would be a catalyst for a wide variety of events and exhibits exploring the exciting piece of natural history unique to our region.

The Tri-Cities is at the heart of the geography affected by the floods and is rich with fossils from the ice age. Recently, a Columbian mammoth was discovered in south Kennewick, another reminder of the grandeur of the ice age floods and colossal size of the creatures that succumbed to them.

No part of the trail will be more important than the creation of interpretive exhibits and trail management office.

The Hanford Reach Interpretive Center already has identified the ice age floods as a key interpretive theme and has designed innovative exhibits supported by $5 million from the state.

Children from around the Mid-Columbia and Northwest will be able to explore the ice age floods in the Land Takes Form exhibit, which will feature an ice age floods theatrical experience.

Within the ice age theater, visitors to the Reach will travel back in time to view the landscape before the floods and witness how the catastrophic force of ice and water devastated everything in its path.

Our geologic clock featured in the Land Takes Form exhibit, provides students an interactive and hands-on opportunity to understand natural science.

Given that exhibits already have been designed and the fact that no other metropolitan area is centrally located along the proposed trail, the Reach is a perfect fit to serve as an ice age floods trailhead and management office.

Development of the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail will provide children and adults from throughout the nation an opportunity to experience the dramatic forces that shaped the geography of the Northwest.

Many Tri-Cities community leaders agree that the Reach is that drastically needed cultural facility that will increase the quality of life for the residents and provide an additional recruitment tool for the business community.

Legislation to create the Ice Age Floods Trail also could create an opportunity for the Reach and the Tri-Cities to take advantage of the significant economic benefit of increased tourism, the greater educational opportunities for our children and the continued development of a cultural identity for the Tri-Cities and its role in national and international history.

w Linda Boomer is president of the Richland Public Facilities District.

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