Between regularly watering thirsty lawns, enjoying lengthy showers and running the dishwasher too frequently, the average person uses over 18,000 gallons of water in just six months.
Since water is a finite resource and deeply ingrained in the Colorado lifestyle, a new museum at the heart of the Fraser Valley opening Sunday is dedicated to educating visitors about the issues and potential solutions for water conservation.
The Headwaters River Journey, located on the first floor of the Headwaters Center in Winter Park, takes visitors on a journey to discover where their water comes from, the details of the river environment, how water is used and wasted and what is being done to protect the precious resource.
“It’s about getting people to focus on (water) because it’s a huge issue in the west,” said Bob Fanch, owner of the Headwaters Center and Headwaters River Journey. “I think what we’re trying to get across is to be part of the solution. If one individual turns into every individual and the actions are positive, the impacts on the river can be very significant.”
On Saturday, invited guests attended the grand opening of the Headwaters River Journey, which featured remarks from Fanch; Jimmy Lahrman, mayor of Winter Park; Philip Vandernail, mayor of Fraser; Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources; and Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters chapter of Trout Unlimited.
“This is unique to say the least,” Gibbs said. “There’s nothing like this in the state or even the country where (…) there’s something so that a two-year-old can understand water conservation and for anyone in their 90s to understand the importance of water conservation.”
Both the mayors of Winter Park and Fraser expressed their gratitude to have such a unique experience in Grand County, as well as touched on other local efforts happening to preserve water and promote sustainability.
Klanke echoed that gratitude, choking up when talking about the impact this museum could have on the conversations around water use and conservation.
“My experience has taught me these truths: legislation is slow, litigation is expensive, education is going to save the Fraser River,” he said. “Susanne and Bob (Fanch) are going to help us change the culture that’s going to help us save our rivers.”
Situated right along the Fraser River, the museum focuses on the local ecosystem, the real issues it faces, such as diversions to the Front Range and rising temperatures, and features local stories of people taking steps to preserve Grand County’s rivers.
Visitors not only learn through the usual means of reading and watching video, but also interact with the over 30 exhibits. There are games where players virtually experience the life of a trout or the journey of an osprey, there are quizzes to test knowledge and encourage feedback, as well as stations to share ideas and solutions.
“We’re trying to make sure people understand the connection between water and lifestyle in Colorado,” Fanch said. “We also wanted to make it interesting and we didn’t want to dumb it down, but bring it up to a higher contemplative level.”
The whole experience is immersive in the same way a 4D amusement park ride is. Audio tracks of trickling creeks, tweeting birds and bugling elk play, bursts of cool air accompany video clips of a blizzarding Berthoud Pass and feel the difference between a 50 degree river and a 70 degree river.
The museum doesn’t just talk about sustainability either, it embodies it. The Headwaters River Journey is the only off-the-grid exhibit in the country, powered completely by solar, and it utilized local beetle kill wood and old water flumes in the design. The bathrooms also have low-flow toilets and all the lighting is LED.
Ultimately, Fanch hopes the Headwaters Center and its museum can be the “water mecca of the west,” where people can get together to discuss issues and come up with solutions.
“We want to be the Switzerland of the water world, where different interests can come here and talk about issues and figure out solutions together,” he said.