Challenges and Choices in Pennsylvania’s Forests

Pennsylvania Lumber Museum and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Ulysses, PA

“Challenges and Choices in Pennsylvania’s Forests” explores six time periods, from 800 BCE through the present, with the goal of illustrating the intended and unintended consequences of human interaction with the forest. Specific topics include the growth of Pennsylvania’s lumber industry, the devastation and revival of the state’s forests, and current public and private efforts to balance economic, recreational, and environmental needs. As part of the story of forest revival, the exhibit includes a section on the impact of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Pennsylvania.

The museum attracts a broad audience that includes local residents and tourists, families with children enjoying summer vacation, seniors and other adults drawn by the region’s fall foliage, and outdoor enthusiasts in every season. Through its mix of text, images, hands-on elements, and thematic links to other interpretive venues of the site and region (“See It Here” and “Go See It” panels), the exhibit serves different learning preferences and allows visitors to skim the surface or dive deeper depending on their interests, motivation,and time.

The main themes of the exhibit are laid out in two large labels, and seven “challenge silhouettes” offer historical perspectives from indigenous people to “all of us” in the present day, inviting visitors to consider their role in the ongoing story. Visitors can select which time periods to explore, using the entrance headers as a guide, or start with the earliest period and follow a chronological path. A free-standing panel at the beginning of each section reinforces the overall “challenges and choices” theme. Low-tech interactives define unfamiliar concepts, simulating guiding a log raft downriver, chopping a notch in a tree with an ax, and cutting down a tree using a crosscut saw, and ask visitors to share their thoughts on ways to sustain healthy and productive forests. The exhibit uses historic and modern images and first-person accounts to create a sense of immersion in the forest and to humanize the story of the lumber industry, the rise of professional forestry,and the involvement of government agencies in forest management.

The themes of “Challenges and Choices in Pennsylvania’s Forests” adhere closely to the museum’s mission of relating the history of the state’s lumber industry to the forests we live with and manage today. Throughout the exhibit, “See It Here” and “Go See It” panels relate exhibit content explicitly to the interpretive venues noted in the mission statement in order to create a more cohesive visitor experience. Visitors to the exhibit are also encouraged to consider their role in the story and to ask themselves what they can do to apply the lessons of the past. The new exhibit has drawn first-time visitors to the museum and encouraged repeat visitation from those who had not been in at least several years, with visitation roughly doubling in the nine months since the museum opened. It has also enlivened existing partnerships between the museum and other organizations, including the Lumber Heritage Region and Pennsylvania Bureau of State Forests, expanding the museum’s reach and the impact of its mission.