HUNTINGTON - Heritage Farm Museum and Village has achieved a new level of recognition and entered a new realm of possibilities.

It's been named West Virginia's first Smithsonian Institution Affiliate, a distinction that will link Heritage Farm with the many resources and learning opportunities available through the Smithsonian, said Audy Perry, the new executive director of the Heritage Farm Foundation.

Heritage Farm was founded in 1996 by his mother, Henriella, and his late father, Mike Perry, who died in February. Under their leadership the farm has grown exponentially in its exhibits and programs, all in an effort to give young generations a chance to learn about and celebrate the ingenuity and culture of Appalachia's early settlers.

"A lot of you have expressed condolences on Dad's passing, which was two weeks ago today," Perry said during a press conference at the farm Wednesday. "Boy, would he have loved today ... It's not the end. It's a new beginning."

Alma Douglas, national outreach manager for the Smithsonian Institute, visited the Wayne County attraction for the announcement. She said Heritage Farm is worthy of the designation for providing informal yet thorough educational opportunities to learn about Appalachian history in a hands-on setting.

"It fits into the Smithsonian's mission of the increase and the diffusion of knowledge," Douglas said.

Heritage Farm features more than 25,000 square feet of historic Appalachian artifacts in seven separate museums, along with more than 30 log structures and other reconstructed buildings, all intended to bring Appalachian history to life.

According to its website, the Smithsonian was founded in 1846 and today is the world's largest museum and research complex, consisting of 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities. There are 6,000 Smithsonian employees, including approximately 500 scientists, and more than 6,500 volunteers.

It's nice to have the Smithsonian's stamp of approval, affirming that Heritage Farm is a world-class organization, Perry said. Having the designation of a Smithsonian affiliate will not only make Heritage Farm part of a national network of lively learning sites, but also open the door for visiting exhibits and distance learning opportunities in a new classroom established at the farm with a setup for webcasts and the like. It was developed with funding donated by the Huntington Foundation, Appalachian Power and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

The Smithsonian also provides programming for community members to visit and learn about science and history.

The farm is now one of 180 affiliates in 45 states.

"You will be telling us what you want us to bring to West Virginia, and (I will work to make it happen)," Douglas said, with Perry joking that he asked for the T-Rex exhibit first but has been turned down.

"She is truly going to be an asset, not only to Heritage Farm but to the community," Perry said. "It means we have a person on the inside."

The Smithsonian has a catalog of programs it has available to students, and local schools can issue requests to the Smithsonian through Heritage Farm, Perry said.

The farm also announced on Wednesday that it is establishing a formal partnership with the new Expeditionary Learning Academy planned to open in Cabell County for the 2015-16 school year.

"Heritage Farm has always been involved in school tours. That's why Mom and Dad created it," Perry said. "The new expeditionary learning school will create a new model."

It's a perfect fit for deeper, hands-on, 21st-century learning, said Cabell County Superintendent William Smith.

Stan Maynard, the director of the June Harless Center for Rural Educational Research and Development, which is partnering with Cabell County Schools in the Expeditionary Academy endeavor, said it's now just a matter of learning how to use all the new tools available to educators.

Perry announced that community members are important to the farm as well, and that beginning this year, Heritage Farm will sell season passes providing access to all the events at the farm from May through December.

Individual and family passes can now be provided at the gift shop or online at heritagefarmmuseum.com. Individual passes will be sold for $30, and family passes for $75.

Heritage Farm's programs are always the first Saturday of the month, beginning with the Spring Festival planned for May 2. Summertime brings the music festival in June, ice cream social in July, Hatfield-McCoy celebration in August, and cast-iron cookoff in September. In October, there's a "Hay-Ewe" event, highlighting the process of raising sheep for wool clothing. In November is an "Industry Alive" event, celebrating blacksmiths, woodworkers, potters and the like, and in December will be the farm's "holiday market."

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