Blast from the past

The Otter Tail County museum in Fergus Falls recently reopened with new safety protocols after being closed for over three months.

After three months of having its doors shut, the Otter Tail County Historical Society’s (OTCHS) museum will open to patrons.

In an announcement Friday, OTCHS will allow visitors to the museum’s exhibit gallery and gift shop Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. While much of the facility will be open to the public, the research library will remain closed.

“When you look at the phased parts of the Stay Safe MN plan, museums such as OTCHS kind of fall between the cracks,” Otter Tail County Historical Society executive director Chris Schuelke said. “That being said, we are under Phase 3 for places of entertainment and could have reopened June 10. We were not ready or comfortable to open at that time.”

The museum will allow eight visitors at a time for half-hour intervals. The staff encourages those coming to the museum to limit their visit to an hour. While not required, face masks are strongly encouraged and if a visitor does not have one, the museum can provide them one upon request.

Part of the new safety measures, the museum’s exhibit path has been outlined with blaze orange tape and direction signs have been created to help one-way traffic. The staff requests that visitors observe physical distancing. The museum will also have several areas where hand sanitizer is available. Although it is open, the staff had to remove or block access to the interactive activities in the facility.

When looking at developing safety protocols, OTCHS had its own set of challenges. While many businesses are able to wipe down items after they have been touched, artifacts or archival materials cannot as it could ruin or destroy them. One of the main concerns for the museum was protecting those that enter and ensuring that the artifacts are preserved.

“This is tough but the potential for extended contact is just too great,” Schuelke added.

Although there have been protocols and safety measures put into place, the staff is also adapting to the new procedures. “This is new territory for us so please be patient as we work to adjust to a difficult situation. It is our goal for visitors to enjoy their museum visit while staying safe and healthy,” Schuelke said.

While OTCHS staff is excited to reopen, the impact of the shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic has been multifaceted. First, the museum had to put their building project on hold indefinitely. The museum was looking at several options as space at the current facility is running out.

Another issue was the museum’s programming.

“We have had no admission or gift shop revenue since mid March. So we have had to adjust. We have been much for active on social media. Missy Hermes Facebook Live series “History by the Highway” has been tremendous, a lot of people are engaging with that, people who normally would not. “Quarantine History of Otter Tail” is a series on YouTube. We have added so much tour web site, and Kathy has seen a big increase in her virtual volunteer program. So, we are working hard to remain connected and fulfilling our mission to preserve and interpret Otter Tail County history,” Schuelke said.

Admission rates to the museum are $6 for ages 12 and above, $2 for ages 4-11, free for ages 4 and under. A self-pay station is available for cash, check, credit card and online payments. Visitors can prepay their admission online at otchs.org/pay.html.

To schedule your visit in advance call 218-736-6038 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. or email at ottos@prtel.com. The museum will schedule up to one week in advance.

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