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Ice Age plan gets cool cash

Grant will fund a kiosk, maps, website and more to promote prehistoric tourism in area
by: Submitted photo The partial skeleton of a mastodon is just one archeological find to be featured in the city’s tourism plan. The skeleton is housed at the Tualatin Public Library.

TUALATIN - Despite the fact the Missoula floods carved their way through the Northwest thousands of years ago, the Ice Age is still making news in Tualatin.

The Tualatin Chamber of Commerce was awarded a $27,750 grant by the Washington County Visitors Association to fund signage, a new kiosk, maps, brochures and an improved online presence promoting all things prehistoric that Tualatin has to offer.

The chamber has a year to work in tandem with the city and the Tualatin Historical Society to spend the grant money wisely.

'Now that we've got the money, how do we spend it, and what's it going to look like?' asked Linda Moholt, president of the Chamber and author of the grant proposal. 'It's going to take a full year to figure it all out, find the right partners to work with, make sure we live up to conditions of the grant and that we can do it economically. Even though it's a nice chunk of money, these are areas you could spend a huge amount of money on.'

People have been discovering signs of ancient life in Tualatin for decades. From the first piece of a mastodon discovered in 1870, to the discovery of half of its skeleton in 1962, to the unearthing of mammoth bones along Tualatin-Sherwood Road and more, the area is rich with prehistoric history.

'Didn't know what we had'

In March 2010, the Tualatin Historical Society submitted a grant proposal to the county visitors association asking for display cases to house some of its archeological and anthropological finds. The visitors association said it wanted the Historical Society to think bigger and instead provided a grant to hire Bill Baker, a tourism branding expert who just happens to live in Tualatin.

'We didn't know what we had,' Baker said of his original efforts. 'It was a matter of starting to join the dots, and finding that there's a lot happening in regards to excavation relevant to the Ice Age and what happened in this area.

'You also look at a national level, where there is a national Ice Age trail being developed under the auspices of the national parks, and Tualatin has an opportunity to play a significant role in the development of the trail,' he said.

The national trail stretches from Missoula, Mont., through Washington and down through the Columbia Gorge. Between 13,000 and 18,000 years ago, floods with a force 10 times as powerful as every river in the world combined rushed through the trail at 90 miles an hour, tossing boulders around like pebbles and picking up tons of earth only to replant it miles away.

Baker, Moholt and Historical Society President Yvonne Addington believe that Tualatin - thanks to all of the fossil discoveries within the city in the past century - could serve as the final stop on the trail.

'All this stuff is beneath our feet; we've just never talked about it before,' Addington said. 'Several organizations have fossils and erratics, but no place to put them, so they're kind of stored here and there. The grant is going to take the second step toward getting some of this done.'

'There's a lot to do here'

A year after the Historical Society's original request, Moholt took the results of Baker's work, called The Ice Age Tourism Plan, and asked for $27,750 in order to put the plan into action.

'It was just a matter of pulling the pieces together and laying them out,' Baker said. 'When you start looking around at the wider community of people who are interested in this, there are some extremely passionate, extremely skilled people, and in some cases they'd never met each other. So just harnessing that energy and passion alone is going to help advance the cause.'

Some people believe that Ice Age tourism could make Tualatin a destination on the West Coast.

'We have a very diverse economic base: fabulous shopping, a commercial and an industrial area, but we really don't have a reason for tourists to come,' Moholt said. 'They usually come for family or business. Once they get here they're going to go, 'Oh my gosh, there's a lot to do here.''

Other plans include creating a path to take pedestrians from the Fred Meyer parking lot, where the 'Tualatin Mastodon' was unearthed in 1962, to the Historical Society, with stops along the way. Other ideas include animal replicas and prehistoric-themed markings and signage. Addington also noted the possibility of a Museum of Natural History.

'This could mean a lot of jobs for Tualatin,' said Moholt. 'They're going to come sleep in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores.

'This could be big.'