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Fordyce visitor center opens in HSNP with new exhibits today

by James Leigh | March 17, 2023 at 4:05 a.m.
A diorama of Bathhouse Row is one of the new exhibits at the Fordyce Bath House Visitor Center. The 3D model has numbers in front of each building that corresponds to labels for each building. - Photo by Donald Cross of The Sentinel-Record

After two months of being closed for the installation of new exhibits, the Fordyce Bath House Visitor Center reopens at 9 a.m. today.

The facility closed to the public on Jan. 17 for the removal of the exhibits that were installed in 1989 when the building was reopened by the National Park Service as a visitor center. The installation of the new exhibits was expected to be completed around the end of February, but several of the displays needed to be reprinted after staff felt they were not high enough quality.

"It's been a long time coming," Hot Springs National Park Superintendent Laura Miller said during a preview of the exhibits Thursday. "First of all, the previous exhibits were installed in 1989 when this building opened as the park visitor center. A lot's changed in the last 30-some-odd years. I graduated from college. A lot's happened in my life, also yours, I'm sure, but a lot of stuff has changed. And so it was well past time for new exhibits."

The project to replace the exhibits has been going on for approximately a decade, Miller said.

"About 10 years ago the park started working on this exhibit project," she said. "We used some funds from our campground thanks to all the campers that use the campground and pay your fees. This is what it goes toward, things like this. And we were able to put that money towards designing and lighting the new exhibits."

While many of the previous exhibits were behind glass, many of the new exhibits encourage visitors to touch and manipulate them.

There are pieces of novaculite and sandstone with notes for visitors to "please touch," as well as exhibits that show the process of how the water cycles from the rain to its return from underground and the process in which the water is collected and made available for drinking. Other exhibits show artifacts from when each of the bath houses on Bathhouse Row was open as well as some of the treatments for common ailments hidden behind doors of old lockers.

Miller said while the Fordyce is reopening, the project is not yet complete, including a new interpretive film that will replace the one completed in the late 1980s.

"We're going to do new wayside exhibits, those little panels in front of every bath house on Bathhouse Row," she said. "We get to redesign those and update them, hopefully with like some bronze tactile stuff that people can actually touch and see the architectural elements on some of the buildings.

"And then we're also going to do new exhibits at the Hot Springs Mountain Tower, where we can tell another part of the story that we don't really even touch on here. There you're looking out over the landscape, and we can sort of tell that tale of the story, more of the Native American story in this area and other aspects that we don't even get into."

The visitor center will be open until 5 p.m. today, resuming its normal schedule of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, excluding Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.

  photo  Artifacts from different bath houses along Bathhouse Row are displayed in the Fordyce Bath House Visitor Center. The facility reopens to the public today at 9 a.m. - Photo by Donald Cross of The Sentinel-Record

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