The Great Outdoors at the Chucalissa Site

by Mallory Bader

Last spring, we conducted a survey asking our visitors what types of activities and new exhibits they would like to see here at the C.H. Nash Museum. A surprising number of people responded that they would like to see the outside and natural environment exhibits and offerings at the site developed and enhanced. This was something that was not evident to the staff, but something that we fully embraced and are continuing to work towards.

Already we worked with the Southwind Garden Club to establish a certified arboretum in 2008 to enhance our interpretation of the natural environment. Our first step in this was to develop our nature trail walk. Visitors to the museum can hike a half-mile loop located on the Chucalissa site, which contains many different labeled trees and native plant species.  This trail connects into six miles of trails located in T.O. Fuller State Park’s property. This area is a rich and diverse natural landscape, with 1,138 acres of land that is perfect for bird watching, hiking, trail running, and more.  Plans are underway to more fully develop T.O. Fuller State Park as an ecotourism attraction. 

We also worked to enhance the presence of our Native American gardens. The Three Sisters Garden, which contains corn, beans, and squash, was grown for several years adjacent to the plaza. This garden is now being cultivated and grown by our community partners from the Westwood neighborhood. With the assistance of volunteers, we have expanded our Sweet Grass Garden and Sinti Herb Garden. These two gardens feature local native plants that have traditional and medicinal uses. Now, when visitors and school groups come to the museums, they can learn about the different types of food and plants that people who lived at Chucalissa would have eaten and used in their daily lives.

In discussions with many naturalists and local experts in environmental issues, it became apparent that Chucalissa had considerable potential for interpretation and conservation of the natural environment. This led to the development of our newest exhibit, the Traditional Medicinal Plant Sanctuary. This exhibit contains native and endangered plant species that will give visitors a place to learn more about what grows in the natural environment surrounding the museum, as well as the importance of protecting those natural environments.

In connection with this new theme at the museum, I attended the Herb Symposium this past weekend at the Memphis Botanic Gardens. In order to make our gardens at Chucalissa successful, we need to employ the best practices for herb and plant growing and conservation. Luckily, the Memphis Botanic Garden is a great resource and the Herb Symposium featured some of the most well known names in the herbal and botanical community. This event focused on the uses of herbs in various contexts. The conference started with two lectures—one by Richo Cech, owner of Horizon Herbs, LLC. His talk focused on the future of plants and herbs in American society. The next lecture was by Stephen Foster, a well-known international herbalist. He spoke about the origins of herbs in American horticulture.

These lectures were very interesting and I learned so much. But the most interesting part of the day was in the breakout sessions. Each participant chose two different sessions to attend, with a selection of herb walks, culinary uses of herbs, and many other interesting topics. I selected two herb walks, figuring that I could gain the most practical knowledge by both seeing the plants and learning about their uses. The first walk focused on the identity of plants, their history and uses. The second walk focused on safe ways to use medicinal herbs in health care.  Both of the walk leaders were incredibly knowledgeable and completely devoted to educating and involving people in using and caring for these plants and herbs.  I hope that I can bring some of that enthusiasm and care for plants back to Chucalissa, to satisfy our visitors desire for an enhanced natural and environmental experience at the C.H. Nash Museum.

 Mallory Bader is a Graduate Assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum as she pursues her M.A. degree in Anthropology and a Museum Studies Graduate Certificate at the University of Memphis.

About C.H. Nash Museum

The mission of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, a division of the University of Memphis, is to protect and interpret the Chucalissa archaeological site’s cultural and natural environments, and to provide the University Community and the Public with exceptional educational, participatory, and research opportunities on the landscape’s past and present Native American and traditional cultures.
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