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‘Our Weakening Web’ opens soon at NHM in Gray

Monday, January 12, 2009Traveling exhibit addresses environmental preservation

JOHNSON CITY – In light of recent environmental catastrophes, increasing human encroachment into wildlife areas, and renewed public and political interest in conservation and “green” living, the East Tennessee State University and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum at the Gray Fossil Site will feature a particularly timely new traveling exhibit illustrating these themes -- “Our Weakening Web.”

This enlightening and relevant exhibit from the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History opens Saturday, Jan. 24, in the fossil museum’s Scott M. Niswonger Exhibit Hall, and runs through May 17.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s revelation that “one in four mammals is at risk of extinction” sparks concern about “the future of life as we know it” on this planet. Persons who desire to learn better ways to help “make a difference” during their lifetimes will appreciate “Our Weakening Web” as it seeks to compel visitors to take action in their daily lives — to promote preservation of the Earth’s richness and biological diversity.

“Our Weakening Web” uses a variety of sophisticated life-like dioramas, interactive components, models and specimens (or casts) that encourage hands-on learning. It also contains elements such as computer games challenging visitors to manipulate environmental variables and scenes with representational fauna from throughout history.

“Most of all, this is a fun exhibit,” says Jeanne Zavada, museum director. “It has something for the whole family.”

The exhibit demonstrates that extinction is a natural process that has been occurring since the beginning of life on Earth; explains how humans are affecting the current extinction rate by altering the global environment; and suggests changes people can make to decrease their impact on the environment and preserve biodiversity.

Highlights include discovering possible reasons for declining frog populations; exploring the various species sustained by ancient habitats in virgin forests; establishing habitats for native species on personal property, such as allowing dead trees to stand or creating a pond; and protecting wild species by supporting environmental organizations and their activities.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 has “protected millions of acres from destruction and development,” and exhibit visitors can learn more about the criteria used for determining a “wilderness” designation.

In conjunction with this exhibit, the Natural History Museum is hosting an “Eco-Smart” Lecture Series on Saturday afternoons beginning Jan. 31. The 2-3 p.m. talks will focus on environmental issues such as habitat destruction, extinction events and conservation. All talks are free and open to the public, but do not include admission to temporary exhibits.

In addition, children ages 8-12 interested in fun ways they can help “save the planet” may register for “Eco-Cool School,” a Saturday class that begins Feb. 21. Full “Eco-Smart” Lecture Series and “Eco-Cool School” schedules are available on the museum’s Web site at

The ETSU and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum is open 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily and is located 1.8 miles off the I-26 Gray Exit 13. For information, call toll-free 1-866-202-6223.


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