Smithsonian Water/Ways exhibit to visit Niles Jan. 5 to Feb. 16

NILES —  A traveling Smithsonian exhibit that will show people how water has shaped local communities will soon be making waves in Niles.

The Water/Ways traveling exhibit will be open from Jan. 5 to Feb. 16 at the Niles District Library, 620 E. Main St. A companion exhibit will also be available at the Fort St. Joseph Museum, 508 E. Main St. The exhibits are free and open to the public.

Water/Ways is part of the national Museums on Main Street program. Those who attend will have access to multiple programs, which will change every week, and seek to educate and intrigue people about all things water including its impact at a local, state and national level.

Those who attend will hear experts address topics on the science, conservation, cultural significance, history and future of water.

Interactive lessons, including an opportunity to create sushi with local chef Daysha Amster, as well as tours of the local wastewater plant are just a few of the things that participants can take part in.

A number of local partners, including Fernwood Nature Center, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians and the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission, will contribute to exhibit lessons. The events will aptly coincide with the Hunter Ice Festival. The exhibit will serve as a warming center on Saturday, Jan. 19, during the second day of the festival.

Mollie Kruck Watson, assistant director to the Niles History Museum, said she was ecstatic to learn that Niles was one of several locations chosen to host Water/Ways. Thirty other applicants applied to have the exhibit visit their hometowns.

“It’s really cool that a Smithsonian exhibit is coming to Niles. We keep saying, ‘The Smithsonian is coming to Niles!’” Kruck Watson said. “The caliber of the exhibit — it’s beautiful. I would also say that the message it tells is very important and you can learn about everything from the national level down to our local waterways.”

The museum’s companion exhibit will demonstrate how local waterways have shaped the history of the southwest Michigan community. Local waterways like the St. Joseph River, Dowagiac Creek and Barron Lake will be the stars of the programs.

At the state level, people can also visit a Great Lakes-specific exhibit inside the library. The program is part of the Great Lakes Water Heritage Project, formed by The Office of the Great Lakes, Michigan Humanities Council, Cranbrook Institute of Science, Kalamazoo Nature Center and Michigan State University. People can learn facts about the Great Lakes and everyday tips for protecting the lakes. 

Kruck Watson said those who check out the events are likely to gain a new perspective on water. The closing ceremony, which will include an expo and celebration, will seek to remind people why water is a precious resource.

“The idea is that the exhibit ends with a strong call to action,” Kruck Watson said. “We are hoping that people leave inspired to make a difference in their own community and get involved with some groups working to better our local waterways.”

While the programs are all free, some require interested participants to pre-register, due to limited space. People can sign up online at nileslibrary.com/water-ways or call the library at 269-683-8545 ext. 112.

Kruck Watson also encouraged organizations and schools to schedule tours of the exhibit.  Tours can be scheduled by calling the history center at (269) 845-4054.

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