Priorities Skewed If Museum Allowed To Close

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As the town focuses on what it could be, we seem to be forgetting what we already are.

There are new task forces springing up to shape the image and the look of our town, in hopes of making it a more comfortable place to live and more desirable place to visit.

The most recent of these task forces is focused on tourism (See story on page 7A). The tourism task force will examine ways to draw people to Payson through the creation of new festivals and activities.

Meanwhile, a museum that is one of the unique features of our town is about to disappear, and no one seems to care.

The Museum of Rim Country Archaeology represents everything these efforts are working toward. It sits on Main Street, as another place for visitors to stop, on a corridor we are trying to develop.

It introduces visitors to the history of the Rim Country and, as they browse the artifacts, the potsherds and the reproductions of petroglyphs, it quietly encourages them to keep exploring this area.

In an article on June 19, "Rents rise; archaeology museum could close" we explained the dilemma.

The museum has cohabited a building on Main Street, owned by the Payson Womans Club, for the past five years. For those five years, the two had an arrangement that the museum could use the space for $1 per year. That arrangement ends Aug. 1.

The Payson Womans Club offered to continue renting the space for $500 a month, plus utilities -- a figure that is a small fortune for a museum that only charges $35 per year for membership -- $10 stays in Payson, $25 goes to the state chapter of the archaeology society.

The Northern Gila County Historical Society, which operates the museum, voted in its monthly meeting that the rent would be better spent elsewhere.

Historian Jinx Pyle said the historical society decided, if the Rim Country chapter of the Arizona Archaeological Society wants the museum to remain at its current location, it will have to come up with the funds.

If the Town of Payson and its residents allow this museum to close and yet continue to espouse plans for the area's tourism, those efforts are misdirected.

Not only will the displays of our area's ancient history be lost, but the storage of more than 600 boxes of artifacts and archaeological discoveries in the lab at the museum probably go back to where they were before the museum opened -- the crawl space of someone's house, where they could be destroyed by water damage, mold or simply the stress of fluctuating temperature.

We know the passion for our history exists in this town and we are calling on that passion now for support. Years ago, in a residential neighborhood, a set of ruins -- now known as the Risser Ranch Ruins -- was slowly being covered by a housing development. Only one lot remained that contained the rooms of a settlement from the 1200s. Instead of letting progress take its course, the neighbors raised $97,000 to buy the lot and gave it to the Payson archaeology museum, thus saving a window into our past for generations to come.

The Rim Country chapter of the Arizona Archaeological Society will be hosting an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, July 12, to garner support from the public, in hopes of keeping the museum open. We encourage you to visit the museum, at 510 W. Main St., and decide for yourself if it's worth saving. If you can't make it to the open house, the museum is open from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, with additional summer hours on Mondays.

For more information about the Museum of Rim Country Archaeology, contact Penny Minturn at (928) 978-1682.

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