Teetering on the Edge of the Cedars

Utah museum fights for its life as the state cuts funding

  • The Sun Marker sculpture at Edge of the Cedars State Park, inspired by Ancestral Puebloan archaeoastronomy sites and created by artist Joe Pachak, is a calendar that marks the summer and winter solstices.

    Matt Beatty, Mooncowboy, via flickr
  • Detail of the Sun Marker sculpture

    Matt Beatty, Mooncowboy, via flickr
 

In June 2009, some 150 armed federal agents stormed through Blanding, Utah, confiscating truckloads of American Indian artifacts and arresting 17 residents for allegedly trafficking in them.

This January, Blanding received another blow when state lawmakers began considering whether to close Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum -- even as it is about to swell with contraband from the raids. The museum holds the largest collection of Ancestral Puebloan artifacts in the Four Corners and is an economic boon to the community; in 2009, it drew nearly 12,000 visitors.

The cash-strapped state government targeted Edge of the Cedars and four other parks because they don't turn a profit. But Cedars was created for a different purpose, says Tim Smith, the state parks' southeast region manager: "People were sick and tired of the artifacts coming out of that area heading to museums all over the country." The museum could stay open, but regardless, it will probably face cuts to its already small staff. State Rep. Christine Watkins, who represents Blanding, worries for the town: "We're (already) at the point where we're really struggling."