Before they got the idea to shake up their worlds and start the effort to establish the Glacier Children’s Museum in the Flathead, Corrie Holloway and Savanna Andrasko knew two things to be true.
First, Glacier National Park is an incredible educational and recreational resource located nearby but not everyone who lives here has visited, and secondly, that the Flathead is currently in a period of major change, with more families moving here and Kalispell committing to core redevelopment.
“I had been thinking about wanting to do a children’s museum for years,” Holloway said, taking a break from setting up the museum’s first exhibit.
“My love for the area is my big driving force,” Andrasko said. “We deserve to have a place to learn and play.”
Starting April 12, kids and families have the chance to do just that at the Museum at Central School, now that the Glacier Children’s Museum’s first exhibit, “Lookout! Our Forest, Our Home,” opened. The fire lookout-themed exhibit will run through the summer.
It features a room set up for kids to explore and get into some hands-on learning with firefighting equipment, looking glasses, a play structure refurbished by the Northwest Montana chapter of the Fire Lookout Association, and more.
What was once a dream is now a 501(c)3 nonprofit entity with a five-person board. The overall goal is to become an independent museum and house it either in its own building or sharing the space of a like-minded business or organization.
It started because Holloway and Andrasko wanted to have a say in how the valley is represented as it continues to expand with new businesses and housing developments.
“We want to give the best offerings of the valley, not just add more shopping,” Andrasko said. “This shows who we are as a valley.”
While the Glacier Children’s Museum will definitely explore the history and culture of this place — especially the Indigenous cultures and histories — the exhibits can feature any one of many facets of the Flathead. This includes agriculture, scientific explorations of the surrounding area and its animal inhabitants, industry, Glacier Park, Flathead Lake, and many more.
And with Kalispell’s core redevelopment in full swing, they figured this time was better than any other.
“It was the window of opportunity we needed to start making some progress,” Andrasko said.
They’ve been in touch with the folks at ImagineIF libraries, and believe that the popularity of what they consider exemplary children’s programming at the local library branches shows there are plenty of families searching for something to do with their kids.
“There aren’t many places you can come sit with kids and play and learn,” Holloway said. “That brings families together, and brings communities together. The more things we have like that we have, the bigger impact we have on the community.”
Since the Glacier Children’s Museum is a fledgling organization, it’s still working out how it plans to grow. Fundraising is also a main focus. But right now, the idea is that there would be a daily entry fee for those who don’t purchase an annual pass to the museum. It will also be a new resource for birthday parties and school field trips, Holloway said.
For their first exhibit, they wanted to go with a theme that would work within the Museum at Central School. They selected fire lookouts because they love them, and it touches on many aspects of living in the Flathead, from fire preparedness to staying at a backcountry lookout.
The Fire Lookout Association also donated a mural to hang on the wall opposite of the play structure, so kids can search it with a pair of binoculars. This kind of help and support is exactly what the museum hopes to find in local partners; when they first mentioned their idea, the reaction was almost immediate from various organizations, including the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, the Nurturing Center, the GoodWood Company, Home Depot, Staples, and Field Guide Designs.
While the museum is certainly seeking monetary donations, they are also looking for skills anyone would like to donate, such as carpentry. The museum’s website has a wish list of skillsets they’re looking for.
Essentially, the idea is to build a community museum for local and visiting families, supported by the people it serves.
“We need people from different organizations to help pull this together,” Holloway said.
For more information, visit www.glacierchildrensmuseum.org.