Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Rocky Flats Cold War Museum Drops a Bombshell

Plutonium has a very long half-life — so it shouldn't be surprising that plans for a Rocky Flats Cold War Museum have been going very slowly. It's also not surprising that proponents of the museum, which would tell the history of the former nuclear-weapons plant sixteen miles northwest of Denver, have found little support for a project that would illuminate a dark chapter in this country's political and environmental history. Still, despite the obstacles along the way, the museum board pushes on — though with reconfigured plans that include this bombshell: The group will work with the Department of Energy, which once operated the plant.

Recently, the group agreed — reluctantly — to share a few artifacts in its collection with the visitor center that will be created at Rocky Flats, which the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is turning into a wildlife refuge. The estimated date for the center's opening is mid- to late 2017, but the opening of the refuge itself has been delayed again and again.

The head of the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum offers this update in a letter in the museum's latest newsletter:
You know how things can get to dragging along and everyone gets complacent and not sure that they care anymore. That is where your museum board and volunteers have been for the last year and one half. We were having a really hard time raising any money at all just to pay the storage, insurance and phone bill. We were out of cash and needed to let Conny go and depended entirely on loyal volunteers to keep open.

You all remember Conny [Bogaard], our Executive Director, who tried her best to take care of displays, keep up with the archives and even swept the floor and cleaned the bathrooms. She talked to the media and potential donors, contacted everyone we could think of to raise money. Nothing was working. The wildlife refuge was not open and there was no interest except a few of the old timers who came to reminisce.

A few months ago, a rumor started that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service might open up part of the refuge in the spring of 2015. WOW, if we could just raise enough money to hang on maybe this was the opportunity we finally needed. Let me tell you "The going was tough" it just was not happening. Your Board of Directors and the volunteers have been donating both time and money to maintain the storage and a small display in the Jehn Center lobby. And, USFWS did not have any funds allocated to the Rocky Flats Refuge.

The rumor kept getting stronger, but we were out of money to pay for storage. Along came Scott Surovchak, the Site Manager for Department of Energy. Remember them? They still have about 1,200 acres around where the plant site had been. Scott said, "We (DOE) have a little bit of money to build a Visitor/Interpretive/Multi-Purpose Facility but we need to have ownership of the museum collection of artifacts so that we can have displays to help the public understand Rocky Flats." I don't know if that was the best thing we could hear or the worst.

If we give our collection to DOE, then how do we operate as a museum or should we change to just an Institute or a Historical Society, so that we may continue our education programs, or disband (crash and burn)? If we don't give the collection to DOE we may lose everything anyway without the donations needed to maintain it. But, this gave us an opportunity to keep the collection in Jefferson County and have it displayed.

The board decided to accept the offer from DOE. We decided to throw our support behind the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and DOE to see the opening of the site to the public, a wonderful prospect. We can help raise money and volunteerism to teach people all the things that they never knew about Rocky Flats. DOE and USFWS would like the museum to continue to help with the displays, education and public contact. I'll have more for you in the next newsletter. Thank you for your continuing support.

Murph Widdowfield, President
Find out more about the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum here.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun