Museum of Moab Director John Foster shows conceptual illustrations of what a new museum facility could look like. [Photo by Eric Trenbeath / Moab Sun News]

It’s a story that goes back several hundred million years. A story where earth movement and climatic change brought forth an age of dinosaurs, shaped a landscape that supported ancient civilizations and frontier pioneers, and eventually brought modern day sightseers to the dramatic region surrounding Moab.

And now, the Museum of Moab wants to share that story with the world through the construction of a modern facility located north of town on the west side of U.S Highway 191.

“It is the museum’s mission to present the long-term, big-picture history of our region for the enjoyment of residents and visitors,” Museum of Moab Director John Foster said. “We need a state-of-the-art facility to present the story with a quality and impact fitting the significance of our area.”

Foster told the Moab Sun News that the idea for a much larger and more comprehensive museum had always been the dream of the original founders.

“They wanted it to be more than just a local museum,” Foster said. “They felt that the Moab story was big enough that it merited a national-level museum.”

The museum recently announced plans to begin a fundraising campaign in order to purchase approximately 19 acres at 1431 N. U.S. Highway 191, and to begin a multi-phased design and construction process that Foster hopes can be completed in five to eight years.

“We know what we have in mind and we know how to get the materials to fill the exhibits for a larger space,” he said. “All we need to do now is start raising money to build a facility for it.”

Museum of Moab Board President Don Montoya said that the board initially identified the need for more exhibit space during planning sessions in 2004, and that by 2012, an updated strategic plan set several goals, including the construction of an all-new museum building.

“We are excited about a new facility,” Montoya said. “And we anticipate that our present and future partner organizations will also be enthusiastic about the shared benefit that this project stands to deliver for residents and visitors alike.”

According to Foster, the new facility would more than quadruple the current museum’s exhibition space, from around 7,000 square feet to nearly 29,000 square feet. The building would also include additional room for curatorial activities and collection storage, as well as an auditorium, classroom, temporary exhibit space and a larger gift shop.

But perhaps more importantly, the new facility would have “repository status,” which allows a museum to house artifacts or natural history specimens such as dinosaur bones found on federal public lands.

Foster said that in order to be a certified repository, a museum is required to have specific management policies, security and environmental controls.

“Everything we have now is from private donations,” he said. “In order to fully tell this story, we need to be able to acquire material from this area so we can interpret it.”

Montoya concurred.

“With a facility that gives the museum repository status, the Museum of Moab would be able to be the repository of our own history and achieve some of the greater potentials of our mission efforts,” he said. “We have significant collections that are currently housed in museums all over the country, including the Smithsonian and the Peabody. Those artifacts are part of our story.”

Retired architect and museum board member Dennis Brown said that a new museum would be the perfect complement to a changing Moab, and that it could be a benefit to the local economy, as well as an attraction to a different kind of visitor.

“Moab is going through a major development phase,” he said. “We have the potential to be a cultural center with a museum and university in town.”

Brown said that first and foremost, the museum needs to raise funds to purchase the property. After that, things would be done in phases, with perhaps a repository going in first.

Brown created conceptual drawings for potential donors to illustrate the quality of architecture they would like to see. He said that in addition to the building, much of the emphasis would be placed on the size and quality of the exhibits.

“There’s a lot more we could do,” he said. “What could future exhibits look like if we had larger collections and professional designers?”

Foster said that he envisions professionally designed exhibits covering prehistoric to recent times, while highlighting the changing landscape. He wants to emphasize connections between geologic and human history.

“Paleontological history turns into human history – coal swamps around during the Cretaceous lead to coal mining up in Sego around the turn of the century,” he said. “That’s one of those things we’d like to tie back through the exhibits.”

Foster said that there is a natural reason people have come here for thousands of years, and that there are very few areas in which the modern or human history here hasn’t been influenced by the geologic history.

“We’d like to tie all of this together, and draw connections through the exhibits,” he said.

The Musuem of Moab was originally founded in 1958, and according to Billie Provonsha, current receptionist and curator of the museum from 1961 to 1968, it was originally housed in a four-room home where the current building is located.

“There was a bunch of civic-minded people here in those years,” she said. “And they decided to get a museum going and preserve some of this stuff.”

Provonsha said the museum collection started with private donations, and that people often just brought in artifacts they had found in the area.

“Ross Musselman brought in a baby mummy he had found,” she said. “They didn’t frown on things like that back then.”

She said that the museum’s collection of Ancestral Puebloan pottery was donated by the family of Doc Williams, Moab’s first medical doctor.

“People didn’t have a lot of money back then,” she said. “Doc Williams would accept these things as payment for his services.”

Provonsha said the museum is in desperate need of more room, and that it has boxes of stuff stored in the back.

Foster said that there couldn’t be a better time and place for a new world-class museum. He said he is astounded at the amount of archeological resources in the area, and that the concentration of paleontological resources – including bone, teeth material and track sites – is unparalleled.

“The Moab story is certainly worthy of a major exhibit like this,” he said. “There is no shortage of a story to tell. Now all we need to do is raise money for a facility.”

Board and director hope to create a world-class museum

The Moab story is certainly worthy of a major exhibit like this … There is no shortage of a story to tell. Now all we need to do is raise money for a facility.