“Over the past 10 years, we’ve learned that most folks don’t quite understand what an interpretive center is,” said Dayton Sherrouse, the executive director of the Augusta Canal Authority. “We think ‘discovery center’ is a more welcoming, user-friendly description of what our guests experience when they visit.”
The 10,000-square-foot Augusta Canal Discovery Center, with exhibits and displays about the canal, its hydropower operations and Augusta’s textile history, opened April 17, 2003.
Since then, with the addition of Petersburg boat tours and other amenities, the center in the renovated mill’s former spooling room has welcomed more than 150,000 visitors.
The original interpretive center cost $3 million and was developed as a partnership between the canal authority and the National Park Service.
It has since become a Southern tourist attraction, with turbines that still generate electricity (and revenues for the canal authority) and exhibits that chronicle two centuries of history, including the canal’s creation in 1845 and expansion in the 1870s.
During a ceremony Wednesday, officials unveiled a new discovery center sign – the first of more than 100 directional, identity, regulatory and interpretive signs along the canal that will eventually be created with the help of a Georgia Recreational Trails grant obtained last year.
“We told our design consultant that we wanted a program to reflect our status as a National Heritage Area,” said Sherrouse, “but that the signs should be cost-effective and easy to install and maintain.”
The consultant, Jeffery Dawson of Dawson and Associates, of Scituate, Mass., proposes a program of signs in several sizes using a brown background, white lettering and an updated version of the Augusta Canal logo in tan.
Sherrouse said the Canal Heritage Area continues to improve as new amenities take shape.
Work is progressing on bridges across the King and Sibley mills’ tailraces to create the River Levee Trail and groundbreaking for new trailheads at Lake Olmstead and at water pump station at Riverlook Drive will take place within the next few months, he said.
A Confederate Powder Works history interpretive plaza is also in the works. Six large descriptive panels, lighting and landscaping are planned for the area at the base of the Civil War-era chimney in front of Sibley Mill. Sherrouse said planning for the plaza has been underway for about 18 months.
Dawson and Associates designed the interpretive panels; the plaza master plan design was prepared pro bono by Woodhurst Associates Architect, whose principal architect, Robert S. Woodhurst III, serves on the canal authority.