Where in Durango do bears rub shoulders with mountain lions, marmots mingle with bald eagles and elk stand surrounded by owls, ducks, coyotes and bighorn sheep?
The answer, technically, is nowhere. All those animals are native to the region, but they just dont travel in the same circles, at least not when theyre alive. But those creatures and a hundred more are packed into three of the most fascinating and unheralded rooms in Durango at the Colorado Division of Wildlife Museum.
If, like some newspaper editors, you thought that the Division of Wildlife property between Main Avenue and the Animas River Trail was just a fish hatchery, its worth taking an hour or two to learn better. The DOW museum houses a collection of just about every mammal and fish to be found in and around Durango, preserved forever through the magic of taxidermy.
They get hit by cars, poached, donated, and some of them have just been here forever, and we dont know where they came from, said Derek Snyder, who has volunteered as a guide at the DOW Museum for 15 years. The museums stuffed skunk was purchased on eBay.
Snyder and a staff of volunteers give informative tours and lectures of the museum each spring and summer to whomever is lucky enough to know to stop by. Fortunately, Durango School District 9-R schools are on the list of those in the know, and the volunteers educate more than 1,000 students in a typical year. On a recent Wednesday, it was three classes of Needham Elementary third-graders, and Snyder and fellow volunteers Melanie McClaren and Clark Kinser had the kids hanging on their every word.
There are kids who grow up in Durango, in town, who dont know these animals exist, said teacher Becky Shipp.
Nine-year-old Louis Day was one of them.
I like the animals hanging on the walls. I thought that only happened in cartoons, Louis said.
From May through September, visitors can get the same educational experience as the school groups. And there is a lot to learn. The volunteers have taken the time to self-educate, and theyre experts on the local ecosystem in fact, if not in title.
When I started hosting, Id pick out four animals and read up on them, Kinser said of his method.
You do that for a couple of summers, and all of a sudden you know a lot.
Last year, volunteers put in about 1,100 hours serving more than 9,000 visitors from 46 states and 11 foreign countries. Those visitor numbers could be higher with some marketing help, but Snyder said the museum operates on a budget of zero dollars. Theres no charge for admission, and donations are used to maintain the exhibits and the building. The DOW provides the facility and pays the utilities but gives no money for the museum operations. The volunteers print and distribute a small brochure to 46 locations in town, but the museum is often omitted from tourism brochures that charge money for inclusion.
As for the inventory, there are always more species that could be added the museum doesnt stock insects and reptiles, and there are many species of birds that arent represented. But Snyder said the stock of mammals, which by far generate the most interest among visitors, is just about complete. Just about.
Wed love to have a snowshoe rabbit, Snyder said.