For a River Heritage Museum at Grand Canyon National Park

What’s Been Done

The National Park Service issued instructions to Grand Canyon National Park and other river-related units that historic boats in their possession constitute irreplaceable cultural artifacts and thus must be protected and preserved as a matter of law.  By that time, Grand Canyon had been collecting boats since 1949 and setting them under the perimeter portico of its Visitor Center courtyard, affected to an extent by weather, insects and rodents, inappropriate human contact, and failing storage cradles.  The collection remained in these exposed conditions for an additional twenty-four years.

New river-running concession contracts established a government improvement account, known as the “Colorado River Fund,” funded by fees paid by Grand Canyon’s river trip outfitters and to be used by the NPS on river-related projects.  Soon after, Grand Canyon National Park requested CRF project nominations, and the river outfitters immediately suggested the restoration and proper preservation of the Park’s collection of historic river craft as a necessary and worthwhile CRF effort.

A “Survey of the Grand Canyon Small Craft Collection” (twelve craft) was completed by wooden boat restoration experts William M. Doll and Jake Roulstone.  They recommended that the boats be properly stabilized, and stated their belief that “with proper preservation, and a developed exhibition plan, they could be the center attraction for the visiting public.”

At year-end, the CRF project committee proposed a three-phase historic boat effort (at this point, the boats were still located in the Visitor Center courtyard):

  • Phase One: design and install protective devices for the courtyard boats, while researching and preparing for the second phase.
  • Phase Two: design and conduct lines drawings, courses in boat-stabilization; contract for stabilization work deemed beyond the scope of course-completion.
  • Phase Three: design and develop interpretive displays; establish a permanent display beyond the Visitor Center.

River outfitter Cameron Staveley is designated as the CRF Historic Boat Project manager, and the project begins with the hiring of marine architect Todd Bloch to survey and prepare lines drawings of several of the boats in an attempt to secure the historical record.  Dialogue with Grand Canyon National Park officials regarding subsequent historic boat project activities continues.

An official with the National Park Service’s Western Archeological and Conservation Center, senior conservator Brynn Bender, undertakes a formal agency assessment of the condition of and immediate stabilization needs of the individual boats in the collection.

The National Park Service’s Heritage Education Campus concept for the comprehensive redevelopment of the historic but disused sector of the South Rim Village begins to emerge.  The redevelopment zone is to include nine National Historic Register buildings across the railroad tracks just south from Bright Angel Lodge.  The old Powerhouse building is initially selected as the location for a future boat museum.  That concept is subsequently revised to designate the historic Laundry Building as the permanent location of the Grand Canyon River Heritage Museum and home for the Park’s historic boat collection.

The Grand Canyon National Park Foundation (GCNPF) proposes to raise $150,000 for the historic boat project and launches its “Grand Canyon Historic Boat Project.”  A GCNPF historic boat advisory council is established composed of historians, boatmen, and citizens.  Members were Brad Dimock, Cameron Staveley, Gaylord Staveley, Dave Edwards, Ellen Tibbets, Richard Quartaroli, and Tom Moody.  The Advisory Council met frequently during the year and developed a multi-phase program.  First, undertake an accurate inventory of the collection, replace some cradles, and complete the architectural drawings that were begun under the aegis of the CRF historic boat project.  Second, begin moving the boats to protective storage where conservation work could be done, and raise the funds needed to accomplish these activities.  Third, begin working toward the establishment of a new state-of-the-art facility where the public can learn about and appreciate the river heritage embodied in and surrounding the historic boat collection.

GCNPF developed the initial version of the “If Boats Could Talk: Craft, Culture and Change on the Colorado” pamphlet and also proposed a major historic boat display with the Museum of Northern Arizona, envisioned as temporary, to generate interest in the collection until the museum in the Park could be opened.  Grand Canyon National Park agreed to finance important historic boat conservation work and to accept funding from GCNPF to finish the architectural lines drawings that the CRF had begun two years earlier.  The historic Laundry Building replaces the old Powerhouse as the intended location of the future boat museum. The Park commits to keeping at least one boat from the collection on display at the new Canyon View Plaza information center at all times, likely exchanging boats from time to time.

Preparation began for moving the boats indoors, cleaning, assessing, conserving and displaying them.  GCNPF adopts CRF’s “Todd Block” lines drawings program.

On July 23, Advisory Council members, friends, and Park employees moved several of the boats from the Visitor Center portico to a Park maintenance warehouse.  Several of the boats’ cradles were repaired or replaced.  On December 12, Park Service staff and employees moved the Escalante, Georgie and Sportyak to the NPS warehouse and planned to move Esmeralda, WEN & Music Temple in January.

During the year, conservators from the Western Archeological and Conservation Center in Tucson survey the collection and record details on each boat’s condition and conservation or preservation needs.

Grand Canyon National Park releases a comprehensive planning report for the South Rim Village Visitor Interpretative Center (later renamed the “Heritage Education Campus”).  This redevelopment study envisions the historic Laundry Building as the permanent home for the Park’s collection of historic rivercraft.

Throughout the year, the GCNPF historic boat project Advisory Council meets several times in an effort to advance the project.  Western Archeological and Conservation Center (Brynn Bender) tendered a condition report, with a statement of standards and techniques and proposal for cleaning of three boats.

More boats were moved from the Visitors’ Center patio to the NPS warehouse.

The first Historic Boats masquerade ball fund-raiser was held, sponsored by GCNPF.

The GCNPF Advisory Committee creates a draft five-year plan, which contemplates an eventual home for the boat collection in the historic Laundry Building, with different boats from the collection being periodically rotated through a temporary display at the Park’s Canyon View Information Plaza.

The 1960 jetboat Wee Red was cleared for transfer from Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to Grand Canyon National Park.

The GCNPF Advisory Committee finalized its historic boat project five-year plan, to culminate on the centennial of Stone’s 1909 expedition.

The first edition of the “If Boats Could Talk” informational pamphlet was printed in an effort to share information about the historic boat collection and the river heritage museum proposal, and its distribution began.

Due to internal changes, the GCNPF transferred the historic boat project funding it had collected ($15,000) to the Grand Canyon river outfitters, who pledged to continue the effort after considering the best options for continued advocacy for proper conservation and protection for the boats and the establishment of a comprehensive river heritage museum where the collection would be housed permanently.

GCNPF ceded the historic boat project to the river outfitters.

Gaylord Staveley and Mark Grisham begin discussions with the Grand Canyon Association (GCA), then formally established as the official Grand Canyon National Park “friends group” and private sector fund-raising partner, regarding the historic boats and the river heritage museum proposal. GCA expresses enthusiasm for the project.

Grand Canyon National Park commissions the “Grand Canyon River Heritage Museum Feasibility Study” to examine the suitability of renovating and re-purposing the historic Laundry Building as the permanent home of the Grand Canyon River Heritage Museum.

On December 7, the newly-formed Grand Canyon River Heritage Coalition hosts its inaugural meeting in an effort to begin building community advocacy for the Grand Canyon River Heritage Museum proposal.  The museum is to include display space for the boats and related artifacts and interpretive materials.  Representatives from Grand Canyon River Guides, Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association, Grand Canyon River Runners Association, and the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association attended, along with core members of the original GCNPF historic boats Advisory Council.  All participants enthusiastically endorse the proposed establishment of the Grand Canyon River Heritage Coalition (GCRHC) and commit to its ongoing support.  In the months that follow, the group drafts and adopts its mission statement.

Subsequently, the Grand Canyon Trust and the National Trust for Historic Preservation become GCRHC member organizations, lending their considerable support to the river heritage museum proposal.

GCRHC undertakes its work in earnest.  In mid-January, the Coalition revises, updates and reprints a second edition of the advocacy pamphlet, retitled “These Boats Will Speak”. Work begins on the GCRHC website, and partnership discussions with Grand Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon Association continue. On June 7, Pfau Long Architects design team releases the Grand Canyon River Heritage Museum Feasibility Study.

During the remainder of the year, the GCRHC, the National Park Service, and the Grand Canyon Association hold a number of discussions about implementing a comprehensive Memorandum of Understanding to define and establish respective roles and responsibilities related to the river heritage museum project.

In December, GCRHC acquires a Georgie White pontoon and the Park accepts this new addition to its historic boat collection.

At year-end, the Park Service has programmed funds to retire Xanterra’s Leasehold Surrender Interest in the Laundry Building and expectations are that this issue will soon be resolved.

NPS fails to resolve the Laundry Building LSI issue. Funds previously set aside for this purpose are withdrawn.

The Grand Canyon River Heritage Museum project is entered into the National Park Service’s official Project Management Information System (PMIS), but no further action is taken.

GCRHC incorporates as an independent Arizona non-profit 501(c)(3) public charity.  GCRHC’s efforts to partner with the Grand Canyon Association to collaborate on the river heritage museum project fail.

The Grand Canyon River Heritage Coalition and the National Park Service enter into a formal partnership agreement, under which the Coalition will develop, with the assistance of a professional museum consultant, a comprehensive interpretative master plan for the proposed Grand Canyon River Heritage Museum.

The Grand Canyon National Park superintendent and his staff decline to move the river heritage museum development effort forward, citing new objectives and competing priorities. Unless and until the National Park Service decides to revisit the question of redeveloping the South Rim historic district with an emphasis on expanding interpretative visitor opportunities, as opposed to concessioner managed and directed commercial business development, the river heritage museum effort is at a standstill.

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