Gulf Islands National Seashore moves back in

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Gulf Islands National Seashore's local headquarters is finally getting its post-Katrina upgrade. It just moved back into its revamped Visitor Center.

"We're very excited to have this. It's conducive to inspiring people to love their national parks," said Interpretive Park Ranger Stacey Speas.

"This is much more inviting, and we've had people come back," said Gulf Islands National Seashore Chief of Interpretations Gail Bishop. "They just want to see their Visitor Center, and just being back has been a great opportunity for them too."

One of the biggest attractions will be the new interactive exhibits. They are still in the works, but visitors got a preview Saturday while designers tested out their ideas.

"The prototypes are models of future exhibits. So they are sort of 'mockups.' They are made of plywood or cardboard, sitting on tables," said Speas with a laugh.  "Our 'Fort' is made out of styrofoam."

But like all the other exhibits, the future Fort Massachusetts model will be much more than just a statue.

"The original is going to be all bronze, and it's going to be a tactile fort that people can come over to and actually touch," said exhibit designer Debbie Olstein.

She and her company, Amaze Designs, came from Boston to experiment with their ideas.  In some cases, they fine tuned them.

"We're going take this information that we've gathered today," Olstein said.  "And we're going to use it to do a better job of communicating what we want to.  And that will go on for many months."

The exhibits are set to open in 2010. Until then, the renovated building is open to the public, and features artwork from the Walter Anderson Museum.

"It's beautiful, it's inspiring, and it's here not only for the staff who is very excited. It's here for everyone," Speas said.  "And we hope everyone will come and see the new building, the new 'old building' and see what we've done."

The center has seen a decline in attendance since Katrina pushed operations into a FEMA trailer.  Rangers expect the new building to increase attendance, hopefully to pre-Katrina levels of nearly 27,000 visitors per year.