Museum board considers closing date

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, September 29, 2021

An explosion of attendance at the Beaverhead County Museum is complicating the management board’s decision on when to close for the winter.

Museum Executive Director Candi Whitworth said Sept. 22 that attendance so far this summer has more than doubled over the prior year, though that might have been because the coronavirus pandemic upended people’s travel plans last year.

“We’re way up,” she said. “I thought we’d be slowing down (by now). And the gift store is doing so well.”

Whitworth compiled attendance data for the past two summers, May to August. In 2019, attendance was 413 in that time frame, compared to 576 in 2020 and 1,900 this summer. The board changed the museum’s operating hours to summertime only, with some exceptions, due to a budget crunch.

Board members asked Whitworth’s opinion what she believed would be a good winter closure date. She said at first she thought Oct. 1 would be a good idea, but the rush of visitors in the past couple of weeks has changed that outlook. She noted hunting season has already begun, and there may be family members of hunters who are looking for something to do.

“If we’re still getting people in I would hate to be closed,” trustee Donna Jones said.

“We can still open for special groups,” Chairman John Garry said.

Board treasurer Neal Straus said he thought the museum’s budget could continue to support being open through October.

The board approved closing Saturday, Oct. 30, though they could change the date at the next meeting.

Board members also discussed ideas for new exhibits and fundraising options.

Jones said potential exhibits include one on snow planes; another on the history of local restaurants, bars and saloons; and one on the museum and depot’s history. New exhibits could also anchor future fundraising events.

Whitworth said she was hoping to have a “night at the museum” event this year around Halloween, but feared having events with the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the county.

“We could do this at any time, it doesn’t have to be Halloween,” she said. “I’m skeptical of getting so many kids coming through this building. It would be a lot of fun, but now I’m concerned we’re a month out and whether COVID (cases) will still be going up. I’m not sure that’s a risk we want to take.”

Dr. Ron Loge, who has been developing the new Indigenous Peoples exhibit for more than a year, said he had wanted to have that ready and a grand opening celebration for it this year, but that may have to be delayed because of the COVID surge.

“With COVID spiking – it’s a threefold increase per week – I don’t think this fall we’ll have much opportunity to have a grand opening,” he said.

“Whatever we decide to do with the grand opening for this display...we want to do it, and we want to do it safely,” Garry said. “I thought the whole COVID thing was behind us, but apparently not.”

The next meeting is set for Oct. 20.