Originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of Yellowstone Quarterly
Colleen Curry, museum curator for the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center (HRC), got her start cataloging Civil war artifacts at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. Now in her 15th year at Yellowstone, we recently sat down with her to learn more about her role maintaining one of the “largest museum collections in the National Park Service.”
What is the purpose of the HRC?
The HRC is a collection, storage, and research center for Yellowstone—one of the only depositories of its kind. Our mission is threefold: We’re here to document the park’s natural resources, preserve the resources, and make them accessible to the public. It serves as an invaluable resource for National Park Service staff, researchers, school groups, and the general public.
What is your role at the HRC?
As museum curator, I oversee the museum collections, the archives, and the research library. I serve as the facility manager for the building. My day-to-day duties might involve researching items in the collection—sort of like detective work—or giving tours of the facility. I create reports that show how much cataloging we completed throughout the year, for example, or how many researchers accessed the collections. We also rely heavily on our volunteers here, and I work with them on a variety of projects.
What might someone find there?
The archives have everything from early superintendent reports to army records, things like soldier station logs and civilian scout diaries—all of which offer valuable information about the early days of the park. The museum collections encompass over 700,000 objects. This includes 21 of Thomas Moran’s field sketches from the 1871 expedition, and 150 wolf skulls from the wolves that were reintroduced in ’95 and ’96. The research library contains information on almost anything you’d want to know about Yellowstone, like dissertations, scientific articles, newspaper clippings, and digital materials.
What is your favorite item in the collection?
Among my favorite items are the travertine-coated specimens that were made in the early days of the park at Mammoth Hot Springs. People on a stagecoach tour could buy a souvenir and put it on coating racks, and after five days the object would be completely coated in travertine. I think those are really interesting because they show something we never would have allowed today, but represent a link to how things used to be. It also shows the amazing rate of deposition at the Mammoth Terraces!
How does Yellowstone Forever help support the HRC?
When you work in a large park competing with natural resources like wolves and grizzlies, it can be hard to obtain funding through government channels. Without the support of Yellowstone Forever, we wouldn’t be here. We were able to get the funds to build the HRC but not finish it, so Yellowstone Forever helped furnish the interior, from the museum exhibit cases to our desks. Yellowstone Forever funds our research library, which includes paying for the salaries of two full-time librarians. They’ve supported preservation projects like rehousing the natural history specimens and digitizing the collections so the public can access them remotely. Throughout the years they’ve also purchased museum items—such as a couple of paintings by very early artists.
How can the general public visit the HRC?
The building itself is open to the public Monday through Friday. People can come and look at the exhibits and access the materials in the research library, though the museum collection is available by appointment only. We also provide public tours Memorial Day through Labor Day that give a behind-the-scenes look at the facility—including the original Moran sketches and the wolf skulls. The tours typically run on Wednesdays, but you can find the most up-to-date information in the park newspaper and on our website.
To learn more about the Heritage and Research Center, including volunteer opportunities, contact Colleen at [email protected] or visit nps.gov/yell.