For a River Heritage Museum at Grand Canyon National Park

The Boats Will Speak: Introducing the Grand Canyon River Heritage Coalition

For such a diverse, colorful, and independent- minded group as Grand Canyon river runners tend to be, there is one thing that uniformly makes them wax nostalgic. In a single word: boats. The stories, and perhaps a few beers, start to flow freely, and they’re immediately transported by their love of boating, their passion for the river, and the traditions that bind us from John Wesley Powell through to the present. For years now, conserving some of the quintessential craft of the Colorado River has been a labor of love, propelled forward by a few passionate boatmen and outfitters, the National Park Service, and the support of the now- dissolved Grand Canyon National Park Foundation. As those of you who attended the Guides Training Seminar at Hatchland know, we are incredibly excited to take that next step down the road to our dream of a Grand Canyon River Heritage Museum.

Back in November, the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association (GCROA) invited Grand Canyon River Guides (GCRG), the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association (GCPBA), and the Grand Canyon River Runners Association (GCRRA) to join with them in launching the Grand Canyon River Heritage Coalition (GCRHC)—yet another acronym to add to the list of “GC organizations”. And how to pronounce it? Your guess is as good as ours, but Brad Dimock swears that if you say it just right, it sounds just like the noise a cricket makes!

Levity aside, by working cooperatively with our partners, the Grand Canyon Association and Grand Canyon National Park, GCRHC hopes to have the best chance yet of bringing the long-talked-about River Heritage Museum to life within one of the principal historic buildings at the South Rim, in a manner consistent with existing NPS planning. As we have evolved, our broad-based coalition now extends beyond core river groups to include many “at large” individual participants as well as other important member organizations such as the Coalition of NPS retirees, the Grand Canyon Trust, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Imagine our excitement to attend the “show and tell” of preliminary design concepts from the museum feasibility study that is now in full swing, spearheaded by the Pfau Long architecture team out of San Francisco. The museum will be housed in the old stone Laundry Building which is ideally located just south and along the railroad tracks from the Bright Angel Lodge at the South Rim of Grand Canyon, and very close to the disembarkation point for the train. Plans show that the building will retain its architectural and historic integrity while being transformed into an aesthetically pleasing state-of-the-art museum, complete with a large display area, a display/boat demonstration area, a theater, and a gift shop. Ultimately, the Grand Canyon River Heritage Museum will provide a critical link between “the Rim and the River,” while serving as a key component of the National Park Service’s overall South Rim “Village Interpretive Center” redevelopment plan.

And what of content? Of course it was the boats themselves that started us down this road, but the words “river heritage” more accurately describe our passionate commitment to the broader scope of the project with the inclusion of running artifacts, river history, social aspects, boating evolution and more. Working with historians, river guides, interpretative experts, educational institutions and libraries, we envision an exceptional, state-of-the-art museum that brings these boats, stories, and museum displays alive in creative and thought-provoking ways. The challenge is no less than preserving the very essence of the Colorado River experience and the adventurous spirit that exemplified early Grand Canyon explorers which lives on in river runners today.

So how can you help? The specific goal of the Grand Canyon River Heritage Coalition is to fund the advocacy needed to support the river heritage museum proposal. This should not be confused with fundraising for rehabilitating the Laundry Building or for designing and installing exhibits. That will come in time as the Coalition eventually “passes the baton” to the Grand Canyon Association who will fundraise specifically for the museum itself. Rather, your assistance at this juncture will help the Grand Canyon River Heritage Coalition to build momentum for the project by “getting the word out” through public outreach tools such as our outstanding “These Boats Will Speak” brochure, our new website, www.gcrivermuseum.org, and other materials.

Creating advocacy, excitement and interest is essential if we wish to fulfill our dream of a Grand Canyon River Heritage Museum at the South Rim of Grand Canyon, and this is where you come in: donate (tax-deductible contributions can be made by mail or on the GCRHC website), spread the word far and wide, pass out brochures, tell your friends, let us know of any other potential donors, whether individuals or foundations. Consider this a call to action for the river community—a time to come together and provide a strong and united voice in support of protecting and preserving our colorful river running legacy for future generations to enjoy. Make no mistake—this will be a long road, but what an honor to be part of it. This is our heritage. Let’s share it with the world.

Lynn Hamilton