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Petaluma Wildlife Museum rebounding

  • Carl King lets his son, Griffin, touch the albino Burmese Python.

The Petaluma Wildlife and Natural Science Museum is abuzz with the sounds of students caring for animals, visitors murmuring as they tour the museum's collection of taxidermy, and the whir of general activity that keeps the applied science program running.

It's a positive contrast to a difficult chapter in the museum's history, the low point of which culminated in the 2010 firing of its former director for misappropriation of funds.

Now, following a major restructure, Christine Walker, the museum's outreach coordinator, says the organization is regaining its strength thanks to a group of volunteers.

"The students for and by whom the museum is run have been instrumental in forging a new path with a firm commitment to [the] museum," she said. "They demonstrate their commitment to the animals and curriculum in the hundreds of hours they spend volunteering at the museum and in the community where they inspire nothing less than delight in those that they encounter— from the youngest to the oldest visitor."

Walker also credits the current board with helping the museum to plot a new course, while remaining mindful of past challenges and successes. "The current board of directors brings a mix of experience, including veterinary, accounting, biology, education, and wildlife expertise," She said.

"Some, like Bonnie Cromwell of Classroom Safari, are our institutional memory, and we rely on them as sounding boards for new ideas. Others, like our newest member Brent Oftedal, have become involved more recently because they've never encountered anything like this in other schools and cities."

Walker added that the board brings "energy, integrity, and commitment to an institution that is back on [the] track to meeting its enormous potential in a time where science education is more keenly needed and more difficult to fund."

In 2012, the museum's operating expenses were $54,000. Museum revenues are generated through program enrollment and fundraising efforts like its recent pasta feed.

Walker said the event drew about 600 people and earned $6,200, about double the amount it did in 2012. Revenue from the event, combined with three recent grants from the Elks Club, The Cruisers, and Nickels for Nonprofits, have helped ensure the museum's solvency, she added. Walker called this support "a barometer measuring trust in the community."

Going forward, the museum, which currently doesn't have an executive director, plans to establish a new membership program in partnership with the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC). Under this plan, members will enjoy admission to the Petaluma Wildlife & Natural Science Museum as well as reciprocal benefits at other institutions.

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