Whatcom County residents - especially local history buffs and birders - are in for a rare treat as the Whatcom Museum's Syre Education Center will be open to the general public for several days this month.
The Syre Center is one of three buildings that make up the Whatcom Museum. It's next to the iconic Old City Hall galleries on Prospect Street and just a block away from the museum's new Lightcatcher galleries.
Budget cuts closed the center in 2005 and, except for a brief period in 2009, admission to the museum has been limited to local school groups. Its highlights include a collection of more than 500 taxidermy birds, representing species found in Washington state.
"It's not something that happens very often," said Chris Brewer, educator and public programs coordinator for the Whatcom Museum. "We really want to be able to share this resource with the community."
Built in 1926 as Bellingham Fire Department Station No.1, the Syre Center is a natural history museum focusing on Whatcom County. Look carefully at the building, and you'll see the four narrow bay doors for fire apparatus and the letters B-F-D set in concrete near the parapet.
Brewer remembered once when a BFD engine company, summoned to investigate a ringing alarm, marveled at their department's former quarters and its current use.
"They didn't want to leave, they wanted to see the building," Brewer said.
Displays include a collection of native American artifacts, including those representing Inuit tribes of Alaska and local Coast Salish nations. Also featured is a display of native woven baskets.
There's a full-size mock-up of a pioneer cabin from the 1900s, next to an urban Victorian bedroom and parlor from the same era. The juxtaposition provides viewers with "quite a contrast" in period lifestyles, Brewer said.
"There are a lot of artifacts that show the way people lived," she said.
There is a diorama devoted to the logging industry, examples of antique logging tools, and a display of pioneer household implements.
While the center is open, visitors can try their hand at parlor games of the period, and try on actual American Indian masks.
Particularly fascinating is a poster-sized photograph of a family at their forested pioneer homestead.
But perhaps the most impressive exhibit is the birds, grouped by similar species. It's a must-see exhibit, visitors agree.
"They are really amazing. Everyone who walks in really loves them," Brewer said. "There's all kinds of fantastic birds that you don't get to see often. It's not just the kids, but the parents and teachers - it's just a magnet for people."
Brewer said that children's fascination with the bird exhibit often leads to more in-depth discussions of habitat and habitat loss, and critical examination of how bird species are suited for a variety of different environments.
"Kids really enjoy seeing this. They're amazed by the size - as we all are," she said.
The Syre Center, 201 Prospect St. at Flora Street, will be open from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday from Thursday, July 12, to Sunday, July 29. A special $5 fee admits visitors to all three museums.
For more information, go online to whatcommuseum.org or call 360-778-8930.
ROBERT MITTENDORF is a Herald copy editor and page designer. Suggest your ideas for local family-friendly events or day trips at 360-756-2805 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.