The new director of the Southwest Virginia Museum manages his position well | Appalachian Highlands


BIG STONE GAP — After two months on the job, the new superintendent of the Southwest Virginia Museum State Park says she feels like she’s been at work for years.

Gretchen Cope joined the museum on Jan. 25 after a five-year tour as the conference and event coordinator for Natural Tunnel State Park’s Cove Ridge Center, and she said the museum is a good fit for her background.

“It was such a great opportunity for me because not only did it allow me to grow, but it allowed me to stay in Southwest Virginia,” the Lee County native said Friday. “Instead of tunnel lighting, we now have the Festival of Trees.”

In addition to overseeing the Cove Ridge Center, Cope said managing exhibits at the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Interpretive Center in Duffield helped prepare her for the intensive role of exhibits at the Museum.

Cope’s arrival came as staff were repainting and carrying out other maintenance work on the Museum’s upper floors.

“I can’t wait to put everything back together and get familiar with the exhibits,” Cope said. “The staff were great in introducing me and settling me in. I’ve worked with community members before and talked to (Big Stone Gap) City Manager Steve Lawson and we have a great volunteer base in the park. This is something that we find very important in working with the community and people and in building good relationships.

Cope credited the staff for a wide range of experience, including the maintenance skills to keep a Victorian mansion in good condition.

Cope’s arrival coincides with the return of Gathering in the Gap, and she said she looks forward to the lineup of local artists and songwriters as well as headliners Crystal Gale and Dave Eggar on May 28. Tickets are on sale now for the festival at the museum or online at

“One thing I love about this park is that everything in it is a cultural resource, from the structure to the artifacts themselves,” Cope said. “I love history and I love what we do in preservation and education.”

Cope said she was impressed with the museum’s limestone and sandstone exterior construction and red oak flooring, as everything was locally sourced when it was built as the home of Colonel Rufus Ayers in the 1890s. .

With more than 60,000 artifacts on display or in storage for future exhibits, Cope said the museum contains much of life in southwestern Virginia. Part of presenting this history to visitors includes the annual Stitch in Time quilt exhibit, which runs from April 1 through Memorial Day.

As Easter approaches, Cope said museum staff developed an April 11 educational program with the city to show the public how to dye Easter eggs with natural materials.

“We’re a small park but we’re very busy,” Cope said. “It is conveniently located in a booming city center.”

For more information on museum events, visit online: “


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