Canyon Country Discovery Center – from a dream to reality
(Editor’s note: This is the first of a four-part series about the new multi-million dollar Canyon Country Discovery Center being built in Monticello.)
During the summer of 2011, I watched with interest the goings-on north of town as extensive utility installation took place, Highway 191 was widened to accommodate turning lanes, and a stunningly beautiful entry sign was constructed. I had read what has been in the paper about the project, but I really knew little about it. I stopped at the San Juan Record office one evening, recently, and sat down with Editor Bill Boyle.
“Whose idea was this?” I asked.
He looked at me and said with a poker face: “Mine”.
I work closely with Bill and he can be a kidder. “Oh, sure,” I said, and I am Santa Claus.
A tiny smile appeared and he leaned forward in his chair, looked me straight in the eye and said, “I am not kidding…do you want to hear the story?” This is what he told me on that cold windy December evening.
Bill has been a member of the Governor’s Economic Council since Governor Leavitt’s days. Ten years ago in 2001 he was in a meeting at the State Capitol when Governor Leavitt proposed an outdoor education center for the State of Utah. He suggested Escalante as the site for this facility. An exploratory fund of $500,000 was set aside to pursue the project and Dr. Suzanne Winters, the Governors Science Advisor, was assigned to go to Escalante and get the ball rolling.
But the good people of Escalante wanted nothing to do with any governmental agency. President Clinton had just announced that he was going to set aside most of the land around Escalante as part of the new Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. And the locals were furious.
Dr. Winters reported back after working for several months trying to convince Escalante this was a good thing. “We are beating a dead horse”, she said.
Bill had the opportunity to visit with her about her experiences in Escalante that day. She told him the state was still trying to decide where the Center should be located.
Bill reminded her that Monticello was dead center of the Golden Circle and the heart of the Colorado Plateau, that the State should consider San Juan County for the project. She seemed interested and amiable to the idea. Bill arranged for the Governor and the Economic Council to have their next meeting in Monticello. They were impressed with the presentation that was made by Bill and local officials and they got the green light to proceed.
Bill went to Bruce Adams who had just retired from teaching science at Monticello High School. Bruce had taken students to Catalina Island Science Facility, in California for many years to participate in a Science Center similar to what the State was suggesting for Monticello. Bill told Bruce what was in the works, and Bruce was instantly positive and supportive. Problem was both Bill and Bruce neither one had the time to pursue the mountain of paperwork, public relations, community involvement, design, and fund raising to make the project fly, but they were on the City Economic Development Committee.
Luckily, Monticello had an asset that few other communities had. They had Janet Ross, who had been operating out of Monticello for years. She had created the successful Four Corners School of Outdoor Education that had contacts and activities all over the Colorado Plateau. It was her life.
Bill and Bruce presented the possibility to Janet, who instantly saw the potential and agreed to take over the program.
Bill emphasized that, “Janet’s fingerprints are on everything associated with today’s Canyon Country Discovery Center. She revamped her entire organization to accommodate and enhance the Center. She has contacts all over the United States. She is an amazing fundraiser and she has been great to work with.”
It has taken almost ten years to break ground. The official announcement for ground breaking was made August 12, 2011 and was front page news. This summer a million dollar bid was let for Phase 1 Construction (out of $8.5 MIL and four phases), that began work on the 48 acres of land that was put inside the City’s proposed annexation boundary by Monticello City at the top of the hill on U. S. Highway 191 just past Young’s Machine Co.
Summer of 2013 four million dollars worth of construction is planned. Now that it appears to investors that the project is for real, money is flowing in. A donor from Moab gave the Center a million dollar donation. Cliff White of the Utah Cares Foundation gave $50,000. Other large foundations, such as the George Eccles Foundation, have made a donation.
It is gratifying to see what initiative, hard work, “stickatatuity”, a vision and luck can do. When completed the Canyon Country Discovery Center will serve thousands of students (both young and old) and will have few peers in the nation. Thousands of people who would not otherwise ever come to this area will come to take advantage of the Discovery Center’s unique offering.
Next week we will examine in detail why Monticello is the perfect place for the Discovery Center.
See entire series:
1- Canyon Country Discovery Center – from a dream to reality
2- Why Monticello is the perfect place for the Canyon Country Discovery Center
3- A look at facilities and programs designed for the new Canyon Country Discovery Center
4- The Canyon Country Discovery Center by the numbers