It has been a year.
How many times have you heard that sentiment, or one like it, expressed in the last 10 months? As an expression of loss, perhaps, or accompanied with a wry smile expressed by someone attempting to make sense out of a time that few of us could have ever anticipated or believed might happen. Yes, it has been a year.
But the challenges brought on by the pandemic this year have also revealed a strength of character and a significant commitment from the paid and volunteer staff team here at the Colorado Railroad Museum. In spite of a significantly reduced budget and major changes to our daily operations, the Museum has accomplished some extraordinary things in 2020.
We were forced to close from mid-March through May, as were many museums across the country. In response, we developed from scratch an extensive selection of online content appealing to all segments of our audience, including “Big Train Tours” which has become our most popular online offering (a new episode is posted every month.) After we reopened, we expanded the accessibility of our grounds to patrons, extending paved walkways and making wheelchair accessible restrooms publicly available.
Perhaps most noteworthy, we completed the return to service of Rio Grande Southern 4-6-0 No. 20 following a 14-year, $2M+ restoration, and held a tremendously successful—and safe—rollout event for the locomotive in August. Rio Grande Southern caboose No. 0404, which the locomotive regularly pulled during it service years, was also renovated and repainted. And finally, former White Pass & Yukon coach Lake Kusawa was transformed into a first-class experience that is also wheelchair accessible. This enables disabled patrons to ride trains at the Museum year-round, including The Polar Express Train Ride, for the first time in our 61-year history.
Finally, we completely re-envisioned our two major special events in 2020, Day Out With Thomas and THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride. Not only were we responding to guidance from local health officials regarding COVID-19, but also trying out new approaches to help “refresh” long-running offerings. Months in advance, we anticipated all that would be required to safely host crowds—including worst-case scenarios where conditions worsened, which they have in recent weeks. These events in particular have served to highlight the Colorado Railroad Museum as a responsible leader in the community, and an innovator in terms of creative ways to bring educational entertainment back to the public.
In short, when we say that, “It has been a year,” we are able to say so without irony—and with the pride that comes from hard work, perseverance, and a sense of accomplishment.
We do, however, urgently need your support! In July, National Public Radio (NPR) published the results of a survey of over 750 museum directors. Of these, 33% said there was either a “significant risk” of closing permanently by next fall, or that they simply didn’t know if their institutions would survive in the long run. While the Colorado Railroad Museum is not in these dire straits, our ability to make continued progress has been significantly challenged, at least for 2021. And this is where you can help.
To thrive, we must continue to move forward with projects and initiatives that will keep the Colorado Railroad Museum growing. This will also enable us to retain our coveted place as a Top 10 Visit Denver destination, and one of the top U.S. railroad museums. We will be ending the 2020 Fiscal Year with almost no operating cash reserves, something that was unthinkable just a year ago. Ongoing operations are at best projected to break even for the foreseeable future, so this means that right now, our ability to continue with larger projects depends on donations from Museum supporters like you.
As you can see from the 2021 Project Guide (click here), we have plenty of work to get done! We are doing everything we can to ensure the future of the Colorado Railroad Museum, and we’ve managed to steer our way through the tumultuous year of 2020. Right now, however, the Colorado Railroad Museum is depending on the support of donors and members to help propel us forward. As a member of our extended family, we hope you will be able to help the Museum continue its progress in 2021. Won’t you please consider making a generous contribution today?
Please join us in our mission to provide an unforgettable historic experience that engages more people—more profoundly—each and every day. As we prepare to take the necessary steps to create an even brighter future, we are asking you to help us again. With your gift you can help us preserve railroad history, and share the compelling stories of the many and varied people whose lives the railroad has transformed. Right now, we need your help more than ever. Thank you for your continued support.
P.S. Don’t forget: Gifts to the Colorado Railroad Museum are fully tax deductible to the extent permitted by law!
2021 PROJECT GUIDE for the COLORADO RAILROAD MUSEUM: Click here to view the Museum’s 2021 Project Guide!