Less than an hour’s drive from Moab is the small town of Green River, home to fewer than 1,000 souls, and also home to the John Wesley Powell River History Museum (765 E. Main St., Green River).
On Saturday, July 18, the museum will be hosting a free, special after-hours exhibit opening and film premiere event titled “Our River is Our Community,” referring to the Green River and the vital role it plays in the history and culture of southeastern Utah. The exhibit explores the significance of the river in the past, present and future.
The museum is governed through a partnership between the City of Green River and the John Wesley Powell River History Museum, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the museum’s stated mission of “celebrating the significance of river history through the cultures and landscapes of the Colorado Plateau.”
The event is co-hosted by Epicenter, a Green River-based nonprofit that says it serves as a “hub for rural development and cultural exploration of the high desert of southeastern Utah.”
Museum Curator and Collections Manager Kelsie Hart said that “Our River is Our Community” is a companion piece to the Smithsonian traveling exhibition Water/Ways, which looks at how water is an essential component of life on our planet environmentally, culturally and historically.
Water/Ways had been scheduled to make a stop at the museum this year, but was postponed due to the pandemic and is now scheduled to arrive in Green River in April 2021. “Our River is Our Community” will be up for all of that year, so the two will eventually be up at the same time.
But, Hart said, the museum decided to go ahead with opening the “Our River is Our Community” exhibit as originally scheduled.
“We really wanted to bring local stories into our museum and showcase that to our community,” Hart said. “We didn’t want to delay the exhibit.”
Hart said the first section of the exhibit is entitled “Water in the West” and is about “the arid nature of the West and how water is a lifeline for communities.”
It includes artifacts from Range Creek which are on loan to the museum from Don and Jeanette Wilcox, members of a family with historic ties to Green River. It also highlights John Wesley Powell's ideas about water, including his watershed map and his ideas about how to settle the West according to watersheds.
The second section is about the history of agricultural and water infrastructure in Green River, including the construction of Tusher Diversion Dam.
“We have some artifacts related to the dam from members of the local community,” Hart said.
The final section is about the future of the Green River and the threats it faces from population growth and climate change.
Attendees will also have the opportunity to view a short film about the Green River called “River Omens.” The film was created by Epicenter Frontier Fellow Sam Cox and features local boatman Clarence Smith.
The museum event page notes that these projects were made possible with generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts, Utah Division of Arts & Museums, City of Green River, the nonprofit board of John Wesley Powell River History Museum and Utah Humanities.