On Feb. 26, 2023, the Florida Museum of Natural History will officially say goodbye to Powell Hall’s oldest permanent exhibit, Northwest Florida: Waterways and Wildlife. This goodbye comes with many memories and much excitement for a new exhibit, Water Shapes Florida, opening in Spring 2024, that will feature a field-cabin replica, a glass-bottom boat experience and a “Water Lab.” However, before we lose ourselves in the excitement of the future, let us make a tribute to the beauty of the past.

Fascinating young and old minds for over 20 years, the Northwest Florida exhibit invited museum visitors to experience the unique beauty of Florida’s panhandle. This exhibit featured hammock forests, tidal marshes, seepage bogs and many more of northwest Florida’s extraordinary ecosystems.

The mesmerizing Florida hammock forest was nothing short of jaw-dropping with trees that enveloped visitors from head to toe. Gladly, this forest won’t be away for long as it will continue to be a part of the museum in the upcoming Water Shapes Florida exhibit.

Similarly, the decades-old cave will make an appearance in our Water Shapes Florida exhibit. A fan favorite, the Northwest Florida exhibit’s cave rendition encouraged exploration of its limestone structure and took visitors on a deep dive into the lives of the eccentric animals that call this place home. In the new exhibit, the cave will more intentionally tell the story of Florida geology and the unique limestone aquifer that stores most of our drinking water.

A life-size bog featured giant replicas of rare, misunderstood carnivorous plants and encouraged visitors to close their eyes and listen to the sounds of the life that surround them.

Depictions of a Native American trading scene set in 1300 A.D. took visitors back in time along the Apalachicola River to a moment when northwest Florida served as a political and cultural hub.

The tremendous task of building an immersive exhibit that captures the sounds and sights of Northwest Florida required skill, determination and passion – all characteristics of our wonderful museum staff, volunteers and partners. Giving countless hours to hand paint murals and carve out sculptures, we thank everyone involved in bringing this exhibit to life, as well as the staff and volunteers who have helped maintain its timeless beauty since its inauguration on Aug. 19, 2000.

After 22 years, the Northwest Florida exhibit was in need of renovations to both infrastructure and content. “We recognize this as a huge opportunity for us as the state museum of natural history to tell the story of water, arguably Florida’s most important resource, and in a compelling way that both informs and inspires conservation and stewardship,” said Darcie MacMahon, the Florida Museum’s director of exhibits and public programs. We are confident that Water Shapes Florida will extend the Northwest Florida exhibit’s legacy by promoting education and fostering community engagement about Florida’s amazing natural history and critical water resources.