PORT TOWNSEND — Five minutes after the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s new online booking feature went live last week, four families had signed up to visit its popular aquarium and museum.
“This idea to open by reservation is something I’m really happy we came up with,” said Janine Boire, executive director of the science- and education-driven nonprofit that sits along the shore of Admiralty Inlet at Fort Worden State Park.
After six months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic and Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, the museum and aquarium reopened to the public Friday — albeit with online reservations only — thanks to updated Safe Start phased reopening guidance from the governor.
As of Aug. 20, museums, bowling alleys, U-pick farms, tree farms and certain outdoor recreational activities in counties like Jefferson and Clallam, which are in Phase 2 of the state’s four-part plan, are free to reopen so long as they take certain precautions to limit the risk of spreading COVID-19.
As the virus’ presence in Washington came into focus on March 1, Boire said the science center decided to close its doors and cancel its annual fundraising gala, which was set for March 14.
“We got it in our gut pretty early because of the science-based nature of who we are as an organization,” she said, noting the six-month closure has cost the nonprofit about 40 percent of its typical annual revenue.
The Port Townsend Aero Museum at the Jefferson County International Airport, which typically collects about $24,000 annually in entry fees, has seen that fall to $4,200 so far this year, Director Mike Payne said.
The Aero Museum, which closed March 17, reopened Saturday, resuming its usual operating hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
Since the Jefferson County Historical Society closed its five properties March 14, including the downtown Jefferson Museum of Art & History, it’s lost out on the $85,000 in revenue it saw from admissions, programs and downtown walking tours during the same period in 2019.
The downtown Art & History museum, located on the first floor of historic Port Townsend City Hall at 540 Water St., reopened Saturday with the resurrection of a long-dormant Anne Hirondelle exhibit that debuted March 5, just before the museum closed its doors.
“We had put so much energy and so much love into this artist’s exhibit, so that was really deflating,” Executive Director Shelly Leavens said. “But she let us keep the exhibition installed this whole time and has now allowed us to keep it up through November.”
Hirondelle, a longtime Port Townsend resident, “is such a treasure to our community, and we’re so, so lucky to have her work in our museum,” Leavens said.
Among other precautions, the Art & History museum is providing face masks and no-touch transactions in its gift shop, limiting the number of visitors allowed inside and opening a previously closed-off stairway to allow for a one-way flow of visitor traffic.
“A benefit of being in this historic building is that our spaces are really quite small, and that lends itself to physical distancing,” Leavens said.
The Aero Museum is taking similar precautions, such as creating a one-way flow through the museum and providing no-touch transactions, but it won’t limit the number of guests unless necessary, Payne said.
“We seldom see crowds anywhere above 30 percent of fire marshal occupancy ratings,” he said, “so I don’t think overcrowding will be a problem. If it is, we will limit the number of people entering the building at any one time to 15 or less.”
The science center — which is open from noon to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday and extending to Labor Day Monday — is limiting its one-hour reservations to 10 guests, who spend the first half-hour at the aquarium and the second at the museum.
Even though masks and handwashing are required prior to entry, a kid-favorite feature of the aquarium — its hands-on pools filled with sea stars, anemones and other intertidal creatures — has been put on hold.
“One of the central features of our exhibits is touch,” Boire said. “Our goal has been to get people to roll up their sleeves and get dirty to learn. Now, we have to really grapple with how to provide hands-on education.”
While the science center continues to develop virtual and self-led learning opportunities, it’s also toying with extending the aquarium’s season through the winter months, when it would typically close for cleaning.
“This is all still an experiment,” she said. “First and foremost, we want to make sure that everyone remains healthy and safe while enjoying all we have to offer.”
Jefferson County reporter Nicholas Johnson can be reached at [email protected].