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Originally published Sunday, February 10, 2013 at 8:09 PM

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Teens start petition for air museum

The Pearson Air Museum in Southwest Washington shut down as conflicts came to a head between the National Park Service, which owns the land and building, and the Fort Vancouver National Trust, which has operated the museum. Two teens are preparing a petition to try to get the museum reopened.

The Columbian

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VANCOUVER, Wash. — Kjer and Kaya Galbraith said they were shocked at news that Pearson Air Museum had closed — so shocked that the two teens decided to do something about it.

The kids, who have volunteered at the museum for the past three years, put together a petition that they plan to send to Washington’s congressional delegation with hopes that it can be used to help reopen the facility, they said.

“We’re just collecting signatures right now, and we’re going to see where it goes,” Kjer, 16, said. “There is a lot of love for this museum.”

As a volunteer, Kjer ran the flight-simulation room for the museum and has met a lot of other teens during his time there, he said.

“We had lots of school groups coming through,” he said. “It was a valuable learning opportunity.”

Kjer and Kaya, who are home-schooled, said they feel a tremendous loss in the museum’s closure.

“It’s like a second home and you have a second family,” Kaya, 14, said. “Everyone is really nice.”

The museum shut down Wednesday as conflicts came to a head between the National Park Service, which owns the land and building, and the Fort Vancouver National Trust, which has operated the museum for the city of Vancouver for several years.

Atop the museum’s website, the closure is announced.

But scroll down, and its offerings are proudly promoted: “Explore the rich history of aviation at Pearson Air Museum, located in Vancouver, Washington at Pearson Field, the first airfield in the Pacific Northwest and the oldest operating airfield in the west. ... Enter the museum and become immersed in a world of wild barnstormers, experimental aircraft and the aces of World Wars I and II.”

The park service and the trust had differing notions on how the museum should be managed.

The service wanted the museum and event scheduling to be under the control of the superintendent of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, with a strong focus on history. The trust wanted to continue to run it as a community and educational site.

On Feb. 3, the National Park Service officially gave the museum 45 days to transition to new management. But the park service also told Pearson staff it wanted the keys and security codes by Wednesday.

So the trust, which either owns or has secured loans for all the planes and exhibits inside the museum, decided to move the contents to new locations rather than risk handing private property over to the park service.

The museum is essentially empty, its fate uncertain.

But the kids and a strong community effort that supports the trust say they’re not giving up on seeing it reopen.

“I don’t want to see it go,” Kaya said. “I think by signing the petition, people will understand that we can’t let the museum go.”

Inga Galbraith, their mother, said the petition was entirely Kjer and Kaya’s idea.

“They came up and said they wanted to help and wanted to make a petition,” she said. “I told them to research it, and they did it.”

Kaya printed out copies and has persuaded a handful of local businesses to display them and collect signatures. She said about 60 people had signed them.

Kjer put a version of the petition online and had collected 61 signatures by Friday evening.

The brother and sister said they hope to get at least 200 signatures and that they’ll mail copies of everything to Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both D-Wash., Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, and “maybe the president and vice president, too,” Kjer said.

“It’s a valuable asset to the community, and we’re sad to see it closed,” Kjer added.

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