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Fort Collins Museum Wants Public’s Experiences To Shape New High Park Fire Exhibit

U.S. Forest Service
USDA - Flickr
Helicopter supporting efforts to fight the High Park fire, June 2012.

When the High Park Fire ripped through Northern Colorado more than two years ago, it changed the area’s landscape and community forever. A Fort Collins museum is developing a new interactive museum exhibit looking at those changes.

The Museum of Discovery is hosting a series of six community conversations about the 2012 High Park fire starting Thursday, Jan. 15 at 5:30 p.m. The forums will feature expert panelists and invite the public to ask questions and contribute to the conversation.

The public forums are part of a two-year project to chronicle one of the worst wildland fires in Colorado history.

Credit Fort Collins Museum of Discovery
Fort Collins Museum of Discovery
Images from the Museum of Discovery's website about the High Park fire exhibit. Videos, photographs and stories will be featured in the coming months.

The Museum of Discovery was only months away from its opening when the blaze was sparked by a lightning strike June 9, 2012.

"We had just finished building our new building, and we were getting exhibits ready to go for our opening in November," said Terry Burton, the museum’s digital media manager. "It was a crazy time, but this amazing story was happening, and we didn’t want to let it go by."

The following year, Burton submitted a grant proposal to the Institute of Museum and Library Services for "The High Park Fire: A Community Responds." The project aims to document not only the fire itself, but stories of the impact and recovery that unfolded over the following weeks, months and even years.

"It’s a story that seems like it ended, but it hasn’t," Burton said. "The fire is out, but the story continues."

Researchers are gathering photographs and artifacts from the burn area, as well as video interviews that will be part of the final exhibit, set to open in June 2015. The community forums will be incorporated into the content.

"The fire is out... but the story continues."

The project hits a ‘sweet spot’ in the way it capitalizes on the unique strengths of the museum, Burton said.

"We are a combination science and history museum – and we’re also very dedicated to being that community gathering place to tell those human stories... to get that diversity of voices to enrich the story," she said. "You can look at it from all these different angles: the history of the event, the science. It fits so perfectly with who we are, and what we want to be to our community."

The forums are free and open to the public (although limited to 80 attendees), and will generally be held the second Thursday of the month at 5:30 p.m. in the museum’s Digital Dome Theater.

January’s forum, called "Fighting Wildfire," will focus on the efforts on the front lines. Panelists will include Bill Hahnenberg, the Type 1 Incident Commander for the High Park fire.

The blaze was one of the most destructive wildfires in state history, charring more than 87,000 acres and destroying 259 homes west of Fort Collins. It was officially contained June 30, 2012.

As the host of KUNC’s new program and podcast In the NoCo, I work closely with our producers and reporters to bring context and diverse perspectives to the important issues of the day. Northern Colorado is such a diverse and growing region, brimming with history, culture, music, education, civic engagement, and amazing outdoor recreation. I love finding the stories and voices that reflect what makes NoCo such an extraordinary place to live.
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