Navy museum plods forward during COVID

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Navy museum plods forward during COVIDBy REBECCA NEIPP

News Review Staff Writer

Like other “non-essential” businesses in California, the China Lake Museum has done its best to weather the economic hardship of a mandated closure while pressing forward in developing a community-side venue to honor more than 75 years of history and contributions of the military and civilian workforce at our local Navy base.

The China Lake Museum Foundation, launched more than 26 years ago, began as an effort to gather stories and artifacts that preserve and highlight our history. Until a few years ago, volunteers and staff were operating in a facility on base. As access got increasingly difficult, an effort began to move assets onto a new property adjacent to the Maturango Museum.

The group has completed Phase I, opening up representative exhibits at the indoor and outdoor space at its present Las Flores Avenue location. But, like many entertainment venues across the state, their operations (as well as potential revenue streams) have been severely hampered by state-mandated restrictions.

But CLMF President Laura Hickle and founding member Bob Campbell recently reported that, despite those challenges, the board and their dedicated fleet of volunteers continue to work in the background to expand and update space, bring on new assets, and raise money through virtual endeavors.

The plan has always been to continue building on the five-acre property, as well as bringing new weapons and aircraft displays — particularly the former — to the new site.

“The aircraft relate to what we do, but we have always been a weapons museum,” said Campbell.

While the long-term plan had always been to transfer artifacts from storage to the new site, that effort was expedited by the occurrence of last year’s earthquakes.

“The main storage, which includes more than 100,000 square feet of warehouse, was red-tagged,” said Campbell.

CLMF is in the architect planning stage to erect a new 4,000-square-foot building on the Las Flores site, which will allow volunteers to move some of those assets over.

There is also a new canopy, which can accommodate the restoring efforts on some of the displays.

“When we came up with the plan to get through these COVID-19 restrictions, one of the things we looked at was how we could improve things for the museum in the future,” said Hickle.

“We know we are not going to be in this situation forever. We are still building toward capacity, still meeting on a regular basis, still holding work parties and cleaning out files and storage.”

While the museum is unable to collect admission or sell items in the gift shop or hold its signature auction (which typically raises some $90,000), they have launched virtual promotions for Facebook followers and are also filling orders online through their website.

Hickle said that those, along with a letter that went out to supporters detailing financial challenges, have already raised some $30,000 toward continuing Phase II, which completes expanded storage and display space until a larger structure can be completed in Phase III.

“We are still growing and making progress,” she said.

“A lot of people are also asking about the exhibits they remember from on base. We are working on loan agreements on those, but what we have now gives you a good snapshot of our history on the base,” said Campbell.

Some of the improvements being made now, behind the scenes, will also allow CLMF to continue its STEM outreach program — which has offered thousands of local students an opportunity to participate in hands-on activities that highlight applications for science, technology, engineering and math careers.

“I think we have experienced a lot of success in nurturing student interest in STEM careers.” Many of those have pursued that through their college endeavors and come back to work here.

“In addition to celebrating our China Lake history, preserving that culture is an important part of what we do,” said Hickle.

Campbell added that a full-scale museum will also boost tourism in Ridgecrest.

“When visitors come to Ridgecrest, other than finding a place to eat or roaming around in the wilderness, there’s not much to do. The Navy museum offers another reason for people to stop and spend time here.”

To check out ongoing museum fundraisers, visit

Pictured: China Lake Museum Foundation President Laura Hickle and Board Member Bob Campbell stand with one of the latest exhibits procured by the museum. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2020-08-28