2020 GCHA President’s Report
B. Travis Wright, MPS presented his 2020 GCHA President’s Report for the Grand County Historical Association on November 21, 2020.
This year certainly has been one for the history books: what will students and historians write about the year 2020 in the decades or even centuries to come?
Leading the Grand County Historical Association as the President of the Board has been an incredible honor as well as a unique challenge with multiple crises stretching through the entire year. GCHA’s success and ability to thrive is due only to our incredible staff, our amazing board members, and the wonderful support and talents of GCHA’s membership, volunteers, as well as our community.
We entered the year with our strongest months in our 46-year history: visitation at our museums was up—only to have our leads stalled—then erased—by a global pandemic that required our museums to close and our staff and board to retool and relaunch with the safety of the visitor and the community top-of-mind with masks, increased signage, and plenty of hand sanitizer. We also had the benefit of learning from the 1918 pandemic and using that event as an appropriate tool for helping educate the community about how Colorado once learned to cope with a microscopic threat. We also used this pandemic to inform future generations by partnering with and participating in History Colorado’s COVID-19 Journal Project.
Our visitation numbers remained low but steady throughout the summer and autumn. We had no positive cases nor outbreaks tied to our staff, board, or museums. Like this annual meeting, all board meetings were held virtually. However, we needed a fundraiser to replace the Taste of History—enter Karen Vance. Karen has been a generous supporter of GCHA for so long and her talents as a nationally acclaimed artist were donated to the GCHA. Her painting, The Trestle on Rollins Pass, is valued at $15,000 and has already pulled in over fifteen thousand dollars for the GCHA. In addition to providing Karen with the necessary reference photography (through commercial FAA-certified UAS flights) and answering her questions about the terrain, I also authored many articles published in the Grand Gazette, Winter Park Times, and Sky-Hi News to help promote her work, the GCHA fundraiser, as well as the majesty and setting of Rollins Pass.
When contemplating the long arc of the past, I find it reassuring, fascinating, and heartbreaking when history does, inevitably, repeat itself. In the July 24, 1908 edition of the Middle Park Times, the headline read, “Grand County Forest Fires” and the article spoke of a fire at the Dow Sawmill on Williams Fork as well as a fire in Grand Lake started by tourists. One hundred and twelve years later, plus a few weeks, smoke began filling the skies in and around Grand County. The 2020 Williams Fork Fire was ablaze and firefighters from across the country arrived in trucks and massive wildfire aircraft took to the skies. Not only were our communities under a new threat, but portions of the outskirts of Fraser were placed under pre-evacuation orders. GCHA’s staff and board led the efforts to prioritize items held at the Cozens Ranch Museum in Fraser for evacuation importance. If we only had a few minutes’ notice, what items in our collection were most significant to telling our county’s story without Cozens Ranch standing? We also worked with the University of Colorado’s Cultural and Historic Resources Task Force to help ensure we had a place outside of the county to temporarily store collections, if needed, and to create Pocket Response Plans.
On the 62nd day of the Williams Fork Fire, the East Troublesome Fire started—within a week, it became the second-largest wildfire in Colorado’s history. This firestorm ravaged our county, destroyed hundreds of beloved homes, and caused unspeakable devastation in our community. Pioneer Village Museum was placed under pre-evacuation status and through our partnerships, we had out of state museums with very large climate-controlled storage facilities reaching out to us offering to help personally evacuate critical items such as the original Berthoud Pass survey map. We now have prioritized items to evacuate at each of our museums, enabling us to better prepare for the threat of future fires. I’m pleased that our collections are safe and unharmed by the nearly 209,000 acres of wildfire that raged throughout Grand County this year. We owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude to our firefighters, first responders, and law enforcement who worked tirelessly to hatch a plan in real time to save our community from fire while also battling an uncontrolled global pandemic.
The GCHA also took steps within our county to ensure the preservation of history outside of our museums, consistent with our mission statement. Potential future development within the county threatens the fabric of historic and prehistoric sites—the GCHA actively advocates for the preservation of history that has been listed for decades on the National Register of Historic Places, the State Register of Historic Properties, and those sites listed as Colorado’s Most Endangered Places. I also worked to help save an historic 19th century windmill, by following the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, at Legacy Park Ranch in Granby. I also prepared the essential research and filed the necessary documentation for two historic buildings in Fraser that are eligible for listing on the National and State Registers as early as next summer.
The GCHA had several sizable and future-proofing achievements this year: we began making significant strides towards the creation of a Master Plan (please take the online survey if you haven’t already) and migrated our PastPerfect collections software to the cloud. Both of these successes will allow for faster response times to requests for information, access to our digital collection from anywhere, and increased grant funding for future projects and initiatives.
I held weekly one-on-one meetings with Shanna; other board members worked closely on budget and other fundraising initiatives and we gelled as a team. We welcomed three new board members: Todd Spain, Barbara Williams, and Michael Koch; while also saying goodbye to two board members and thanking them both for many years of selfless service to GCHA: Monica Sandstrom and Barbara Mitchell. We applied for and received the most grant funding this year in GCHA’s history and continue to apply for additional grants to bring our mission across the county just one step closer to reality. This year, Cozens Ranch Museum in Fraser and the Emily Warner Field Aviation Museum in Granby were each named as a Distinctive Destination of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
We will be thankful when the last day of the 2020 calendar flutters into the wastepaper basket and while our community has much to rebuild in 2021, the GCHA is better poised to advance our county’s story and protect our history for years to come.
We’re so thankful for our board, staff, volunteers, and membership; thank you for your support and dedication to our organization—we do this all for you but couldn’t do it without you. Please stay safe and stay healthy.
B. Travis Wright, MPS
Saturday, November 21, 2020