AZTEC — Damage caused by torrents of mud and debris during September storms is one moment in history supporters of the Aztec Museum and Pioneer Village would prefer didn't happen.
But it did.
The museum's board members are hoping for help from the community to continue ongoing cleanup and repair efforts before opening in May. The museum is typically open from April through September and is closed in the winter. To restore the building and its historic grounds, the museum will need to raise $43,500.
"We are a museum in Aztec that represents the city and entire county," said Vicky Ramakka, museum board member and retired educator. "It's really a county museum, with artifacts and collections that represent so many families and people in this area, including Cedar Hill, Blanco. We hope more people will see the value here and continue to support us."
The museum saw a total of 1,585 visitors from 31 states and eight foreign countries last year.
Ramakka and board members presented their annual report to the Aztec City Commission Feb. 25, which got the attention of outgoing commissioner Eugene Current.
"You know you're old when the museum's got your stuff in it," Current joked at the meeting.
The museum has on display Current's shoe-shining chair and equipment, which Current said was how he earned money when he was a boy.
Jim Macaw, maintenance manager at the nonprofit museum, has been extra busy since the fall flood with repainting and varnishing the village's replica buildings, tearing out carpet and staking out walkways that were buried under nearly two feet of muddy debris and garbage.
"The museum had some damage, but the frontier town really got hit hard," said Macaw, 72. "I'm working to help clear it all out. The whole town was just covered in gravel and rocks, trash, tree branches, a backpack — it all washed down the hill and did just enough to make a real mess."
The muddy water gushed down Blanco Street and across Main Avenue, inundating the history museum and its replica frontier town.
The museum's building, the old city hall, had 18 inches of water at its doors and flooding throughout the museum's lower floor and the basement of the old firehouse next door, where the museum stores artifacts not on display.
Cascading waterfalls took out the sloping rock walls that abut Main Avenue and flooded the village's Old Aztec Jail. The water washed away recently landscaped gardens and walkways, sinking all of the exterior grounds' oil industry and agricultural exhibits in more than a foot of sandy, silty mud.
City crews and some of the museum's neighbors have pitched in to help. City crews donated wood piles, rocks and heavy equipment to rebuild the east side walls and haul away dump-truck loads of mud and sand.
Bill Dusenbery came by with his own tractor and front-end loader and helped begin the arduous process of removing mud from the village's grounds. Dusenbery is the president of one of the longest running businesses in Aztec, Dusenbery's, a car parts and service store a few doors down from the museum on Chaco Street.
Two weeks ago, city crews installed new motion-detector lights throughout the interior of the museum.
And more repairs and improvements are in the works.
Macaw recently restored the exterior wood skirting on the replica print shop, nailed up new tongue-and-groove siding and repainted the village's Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Caboose in authentic apple flyer red.
The museum board hopes to install a new stage for outdoor events, exterior lighting, interpretation and safety signs, new sandstone-textured concrete walk paths throughout the village, added wheelchair access ramps and new entry gates and signs on the north and south sides to compliment handicap parking spaces there.
"We usually open in April, but we are hoping to do so this year by May," said board Vice President Dale Anderson. "This year is our 50th anniversary as a museum, and we are hoping to make improvements here to have more music performances and events."
Anderson, who owns neighboring Aztec Media, produced an 11-minute video called "Nature's Gifts — San Juan Basin, New Mexico" for the museum and revamped the museum's website, www.aztecmuseum.org.
"The question becomes, what is the role of a museum like this?" Anderson said. "It's for the entire community, the Four Corners. If you don't know where you've been you don't know where you are and you don't know where we're going. That's the value and richness of this place. It's a neutral ground of exploration and connection. It fosters and maintains community, which is incredibly rich and diverse here."