Saturday, April 30, 2011

A visit to Howard Amon park and a little history lesson

Another dreary, cool day found us at one of the many parks in Richland.  Howard Amon park is 45 acres that borders the Columbia river and many people come here to enjoy the park, boating, trails, community center, tennis courts, outdoor stage and of course a few geocaches.   There is a lot of fun playground equipment for the kids to enjoy and a wading pool for when the weather is warmer.
Entrance to the park
The geese don't mind the cool weather

Trees are a precious commodity in this desert area.  It is easy to see where the rivers run - trees line the banks.  Neighborhoods also have trees in the yards.  The park has made their tree 'stumps' into art.  If a tree dies - they make a kind of totem out of it!  There are several such trees in Howard Amon park. 
The carvings go all the way around - lots of different animals

The CREHST museum (Columbia River Exhibition of History, Science and Technology is along the park and worth a stop.  There is a small admission fee, but if you are a Science Center (St Louis) member, or other reciprocal museum member, you get in free.  Most of the museum is about the history of the area and the nuclear industry.  They have many movies you can watch about different aspects of the history - the docents are very helpful and suggest titles you may be interested in.  We had a docent, Bob, who accompanied us around and shared lots of information regarding the Hanford nuclear facilities as he worked there as a radiation specialist for many years. 
A few of the reactor displays

A little history lesson:  Before WW II the population of Richland was about 300.  The army purchased 640 square miles and displaced the residents of Richland to build the Hanford nuclear facilities in order to make plutonium.  People came for construction and every aspect of a new city - but were unaware of what they were building.  By 1943 Richland was a 'closed city' that could only be accessed by residents and those approved by the US Army.  Addresses were misleading and mail was postmarked as originating from Seattle.  Background checks were done, police had spare keys to all the homes, the phonebook was marked 'classified', mail was examined before delivery, and phones were tapped - all as security measures.  The government owned everything in the homes including the furniture and government officials even came to the homes to perform routine maintenance such as changing the light bulbs! 

At the end of the war the nuclear facility was shut down and the army moved out of Richland.  A short time later, 1947, the cold war began.  This once again raised the need for workers at Hanford, the nearby nuclear development facility.  Hanford continued to provide employment to many as a weapons developer.  The weapons development work ceased in 1987 and Hanford became an environmental cleanup site.  As an environmental site, Hanford still employs a significant portion of Richland residents.  is a good place to see what is going on at this time.

Back to the museum - there are lots of artifacts, pictures and displays that show how the area was during the operation of the Hanford sites.   There is a 'company trailer' that is open to see on the grounds that show how people lived in these small trailers as homes were being built.  Richland had the biggest trailer park in the world then (more than 3,600 spaces!).
Training bomb and artifacts

The museum has a room for kids (and adults) that has displays about scientific principles.  Downstairs has an exhibit about Lewis & Clark and their journey through this area.  There is also a small gift shop which has great books about the history of the area and the nuclear industry.
Part of the science displays

Much of the history is still evident today around town.  Because the town was developed by the Army Corp of Engineers the street names are taken from history.  George Washington Way, Steven's Way (after the engineer of the Panama Canal) and many streets named after army generals and words associated with nuclear development.  The Richland high school teams are called the 'Bombers' and their logo is a mushroom cloud!
Mosaic along the sidewalk of the art gallery that borders the park

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