For a River Heritage Museum at Grand Canyon National Park

Thinking Outside the Box…Of Boats

Ten years ago at this time, Brad Dimock was cajoling anyone who would listen that, “we gotta do something about those old boats.” There were then about a dozen river-running boats that have shaped the human experience in Grand Canyon and they were languishing in the Visitors Center courtyard.

“Save The Boats” became the rallying cry, and most of the ten-year period was focused on collection and preservation. Thanks to Brad and others who cared, those boats were saved, and others located and added to the collection. They are now in protected storage in the park; they’ve been cleaned, and hard-hulled boats have been placed on new cradles.

But doing something about the boats has never meant just putting them in a warehouse rest home. It’s now time for the next phase: a place for the boats and related artifacts to tell stories to park visitors, to be touchstones that connect the river with the rim, to relate how exploration and exploitation became transformed into adventurous recreation for park visitors.

The historic 1926 NPS laundry building has been nominated, and found feasible, for adaptive reuse as the Grand Canyon River Heritage Museum. In words and drawings, the feasibility study team has suggested exterior renovation and expansion consistent with the building’s original design theme. They have laid out a floor plan that will provide exhibit connectivity and security, and theater and retail facilities. State of the art interpretive displays and devices will draw visitors of all ages into the human history of the river and inner canyon.

There’s a saying, “Make no small plans, for they have not the magic to stir men’s blood.” It’s usually attributed to Daniel Hudson Burnham, who designed Chicago’s lakefront public park, and many buildings in Chicago, Washington d.c., and other cities. The Museum is no small plan. The feasibility report projects a cost of ten million dollars, of which about two mil- lion is for display, and interpretive design and layout. Another of Brad’s remarks—that this must be much more than “a box of boats”—soon led to the larger, more relevant, vision of a Grand Canyon River Heritage Museum. In addition to preserving and presenting the Park’s river heritage, the Museum can be the anchor project for the master-planned Village Interpretive Center that will one day renew the nondescript district presently dominating the view from the concourse of Bright Angel Lodge.

Several essential phases lie ahead. One is to create and sustain awareness and advocacy for the project; others are to raise the money for renovating and upsizing the building, and for the installation of the exhibits and interpretive systems.

The advocacy phase is well underway: for several years, commercial river passengers have been donating, through a trip reservation checkoff, to an outfitter- managed fund that gives grants to several causes, including the museum advocacy project. Last year, the Museum Coalition established an online donation system, and has received several donations. Coalition organizations such as GCRG, the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association (GCROA), the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association (GCPBA) and the Grand Canyon River Runners Association (GCRRA) are encouraging their members to provide association support. All totaled, these don’t amount to big broad-based support and publicity
money, but they’re upon which big money can be sought. For that phase, the Museum Coalition hopes to have a three-way project partnership with the Park, and the Park’s official fundraiser, the Grand Canyon Association.

Once the major fund-raising program is launched, we expect the Grand Canyon River Heritage Museum project to attract national and international donors. Philanthropy is still extant, as evidenced by recent news items about well-known billionaires and millionaires pledging to give away large portions of their wealth during their lifetimes, and encouraging others to do the same. There are Park Service programs that provide funding for adaptive reuse of historic national park buildings. There are funds and foundations that con- tribute to large projects of this nature. Some members of the Coalition have made personal donations to the advocacy phase, and expressed interest in helping fund the bricks-and- mortar phase with lifetime donations and end-of-life bequests.

Museum Coalition members are optimistic that the various funding sources can be melded into a phased matrix that will have the River Heritage Museum complete, and its doors open to visitors, within the next few years.

The Coalition’s exciting new website at has a wealth of information about developments so far, and about the boats and related equipage, photos, and writings that are already in the Park’s collection. You can also sign up for our mailing list as well as donate securely.

Copies of the new pamphlet These Boats Will Speak are available from the Museum Coalition at Box 936, Flagstaff, AZ 86004. GCRG also maintains a supply, as do most of the outfitting companies. This is admittedly an ambitious project. Support and encouragement are needed from river folks, and can then begin coming from all who care about Grand Canyon, wherever they may be. Please join us in spreading the word, and seeking potential funding sources. And please tell your friends and your river passengers about the Grand Canyon River Heritage Museum project.

Gaylord Staveley, executive committee chairman, GCRHC

Conceptualizing The Possibilities: The Grand Canyon River Heritage Museum Project

The vision for the Grand Canyon River Heritage Museum has its roots in the 1995 General Management Plan of Grand Canyon National Park. Consistent with the Park’s purpose, this guiding document seeks to encourage “appropriate use and adaptive reuse of historic structures, while preserving historic integrity.” In a world where we increasingly look for ways to live lightly, the concepts of sustainability and the adaptive re-use of historic buildings for new purposes are intriguing and hold great appeal.

But how do you ensure that the concept is actually workable? The NPS had already identified the historic Laundry Building (one of the original Fred Harvey service buildings), as a likely and appropriate home for the boats and river museum in its comprehensive 2004 Village Interpretative Area study. In 2009, the National Park Service commissioned a study to examine the feasibility of renovating and re-purposing the historic “Laundry Building” as the Grand Canyon River Heritage Museum.

This feasibility study was completed in August, 2010 and can be accessed on the Grand Canyon River Heritage Coalition (GCRHC) website, www.gcrivermuseum. org. It’s a great way to learn more about the building’s suitability for the historic boat displays, possible interior and exterior modifications, the components of the new museum, building materials, schematics, architectural renderings, and more…Take a look!

Amazingly enough, it has been almost a year since the Grand Canyon River Heritage Coalition was formed, bringing diverse stakeholder groups together to preserve our river heritage and share it with the world. I can tell you that as the Coalition members have worked collaboratively on this endeavor, our excitement has grown as we lay the initial foundation for future success. Currently, GCRHC is entering into discussions with our partners, the NPS and the Grand Canyon Association, to clarify roles and responsibilities and maintain forward momentum.

Make no mistake, this will be a long and expensive process, yet by the same token, we are thankful that we are not starting at “square one.” The Park has in its possession many of the historic craft, much of the painstaking conservation work has been finished, we have a detailed feasibility study that identifies a work- able building plan and location, we have knowledgeable experts to help us along the way, and most importantly, GCRHC and our partners have a vision and the depth of commitment to see it through. As the NPS Feasibility Study states,

“… the exciting opportunities for preservation, display and interpretation of the park’s boat collection, and the multiple stories there are to tell about so many related topics, from the stories of river characters, the quirky evolution of river craft, opportunities to connect with the river experience, to the linkages with evolving resource policy in the West, all add up to make this a potential “must visit” part of the south rim experience.”

We couldn’t agree more. Help us build momentum for this project by making a secure tax deductible donation on the GCRHC website or by mail. The firm support of our river community will be the critical first step as we heighten the Grand Canyon River Heritage Museum profile to a national and even international level. It all starts with you. Please make your tax deductible donation today!

Grand Canyon River Heritage Coalition

At the Spring GTS and in the last issue of the BQR, we introduced the river community to the Grand Canyon River Heritage Coalition (GCRHC)—a diverse group of river stakeholders dedicated to celebrating and preserving the vibrant river running history, culture, traditions, and diverse river craft of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. GCRHC’S main goal is to raise tax-deductible funds for project advocacy—public outreach tools designed to promote the development of a state-of-the-art Grand Canyon River Heritage Museum at the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

Is the project intriguing? Certainly. But is a River Heritage Museum actually possible? Absolutely, but only if we garner the staunch support of the river community (that means you!) and expand our focus to the public at large (you can help with that too!). This project has its roots in the General Management Plan of Grand Can- yon National Park that envisioned a broad interpretive education campus at Grand Canyon’s South Rim, housed in the historic buildings across the railroad tracks from the Bright Angel Lodge. The River Heritage Museum is therefore a critical component of a much larger picture, because it will serve as the important catalyst for the rejuvenation and re-purposing of this historic area into a thriving “Village Interpretive Center” worthy of this iconic national park.

To further pique your interest, we would like to share artist’s renderings of exterior and interior views from the Feasibility Study conducted by the Pfau Long architecture team from San Francisco. Fantastic, aren’t they?

These boats will “speak,” but only with your help. Please consider supporting our project advocacy efforts today with a tax deductible contribution either by mail or on the GCRHC website. And spread the word!

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,, 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