The re-designed Falls of the Ohio State Park museum, which reopened in January, is far more interactive than its predecessor. Photos by Kevin Gibson.

The redesigned Falls of the Ohio State Park museum, which reopened in January, is far more interactive than its predecessor. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

As recently as two years ago, the Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville, Ind., was badly in need of a facelift. Actually, it needed a complete overhaul.

A lengthy fundraising effort by the Falls of the Ohio Foundation raised the needed $6 million, bringing the re-imagining of the center to life. This week, the museum that chronicles the 390-million-year-old history of the prehistoric fossil beds site celebrated by winning a Telly Award for the center’s video presentation, “Lewis & Clark at the Falls of the Ohio.”

The museum exhibit and the film both were created by Louisville-based Solid Light Inc., which accepted the bronze award in the 37th annual awards honoring outstanding programs and commercials. The film won in the Film/Video, Non-Broadcast Production, History/Biography category.

Solid Light is also well known for its design of the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, which tells the story of the legendary whiskey maker and his contributions to Louisville and bourbon. “Lewis & Clark” does much the same for the famed exploring team that blazed a trail from Clarksville to the Pacific Ocean by way of the Pacific Northwest at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson.

The film follows the 13-man team, dubbed the Corps of Discovery Expedition, through its beginnings around a campfire in Clarksville, through the Rocky Mountains and past what is now Portland, Ore., on its way to the Pacific. The three-part story is told using actors staging re-enactments along with illustrations.

“The Telly Awards has a mission to honor the very best in film and video,” said Linda Day, executive director of the Telly Awards, in a release. “Solid Light’s accomplishment illustrates their creativity, skill and dedication to their craft and serves as a testament to great film and video production.”

Another video is under way for the Falls park, which will be shown as an introduction to visitors as the first enter the museum, or interpretive center. That film likely won’t be ready until 2018, according to Falls foundation member Lynn Lewis.

But the new museum is a vast improvement over the original, which primarily consisted of a few fossils, relics, some live fish, miniatures and static displays. The new center is largely digital and extremely interactive.

“It was more like a museum where you stand and read things,” Lewis said.

One wall in the new Falls of the Ohio center depicts a digitally-generated prehistoric ocean bed.

One wall in the new Falls of the Ohio center depicts a digitally-generated prehistoric ocean bed. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

The new center was built to tell a four-phase story with the themes An Ancient Sea, A Changing Land, Converging Cultures and the Falls Today. The exhibits offer glimpses into what was and what is now, starting with a close-up look at some of the sea life that inhabited the local area at the time. From giant, menacing prehistoric fish to coral species, visitors can explore the hands-on exhibit backed by a wall-sized animation of these creatures as they “live” virtually under the vast sea that covered the Falls of the Ohio area.

From there, it’s a trip into how the Ohio River was formed — previously, a system called the Teays River carried water west to the Mississippi — and more facts about the evolution of the river and the area around it. For instance, the Falls of the Ohio was not a falls but a rapids that spanned more than two miles.

Falls 2 big bird

Birds of the Ohio River | Photo by Kevin Gibson

Converging Cultures takes a look at the human life and its evolution, and the final installment is, of course, the life that exists in and around the falls today. For instance, there is a bald eagle population at certain times of the year. And those folklore tales of catfish as big as Volkswagens inhabiting the bottom of the river? Well, they’re somewhat true.

One exhibit offers an interactive look at some of the life — and even non-life — in the Ohio today. Visitors can simply tap a pad, and a blue catfish, a silver carp or a school of minnows will swim up to the screen, along with facts about the species and how they affect the river’s ecosystem. Of course, one of the pads will bring a jug of motor oil gurgling into view, along with warnings of how dangerous oil is to river life.

And on one wall is a display of discarded items that have been found in the river and which also pose a threat to the life there.

Along with the education, the new Falls of the Ohio center is more family-friendly than it ever was in the past, with most or all of the interactive exhibits existing at a level that’s about right for an 8-year-old and enables them to get hands-on with the exhibit.

Of course, after the tour, visitors can enjoy the river from an overlook deck or walk down to the fossil beds to explore by the river’s edge. Doesn’t get much more interactive than that.

The Falls of the Ohio State Park is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday. Tours of the museum are $9 for adults, $7 for kids age 5-12, and free for kids under 5. The park is located at 201 W. Riverside Drive in Clarksville.