PUBLISHED: 11:19 AM on Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Saying goodbye to 50-year-old institution
End of an era
Staff from the Juneau minerals museum is preparing to transfer a significant portion of its collection to Anchorage.

The Juneau-John Rishel Mineral Information Center on Mayflower Island, just off Douglas, is closing by September 30. Supervisor Chris DeWitt said the Bureau of Land Management is negotiating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take over the property.

"There is some work that has to be done, old buildings that have to be torn down. The Bureau of Land Management will probably commit to that, but in the meantime, they'll transfer the facility to the Fish and Wildlife Service," DeWitt said.

The Mineral Information Center has been covered by the BLM budget since 1996, but lost its federal funding.

The center has a long history in Juneau. In 1949, Congress appropriated funds for construction of a U.S. Bureau of Mines experiment station in Alaska. "Juneau was selected as the site because it was the territorial capital. Perhaps equally important, the funds were not sufficient to build a suitable facility in explosively growing Anchorage," according to the Center's Web site. The site came cheaply because it was owned by the U.S. Navy, which had acquired it in 1890 as a place to refuel coal-burning warships. Construction started and in 1950, the station was dedicated.

Today its museum displays hundreds of mineral, rock and fossil specimens from Alaska. It has historic photos and mining artifacts from gold mining days. Its library contains more than 20,000 geologic and minerals publications including old mining records and claims information.

Dewitt said most of its extensive collection of historical mining and geological records will go to Alaska Resources Library and Information Services, or Arlis, which is on the campus of University of Alaska, Anchorage.

The center's unique holdings of minerals represent statewide findings and include fuchsite, albite, cinnabar and Alaska fossils. They'll end up at a new science building also on the UAA campus.

"We couldn't find another BLM facility in Alaska to take the large mineral collection that we have. We didn't have much luck finding anyone locally who could take it and keep it on display. The University of Alaska, Anchorage was truly excited about getting it," DeWitt said.

DeWitt said he expects significant historical artifacts will go the Juneau Douglas City Museum. The center's collection includes artifacts from the former U. S. Bureau of Mines' Alaska Field Office. There are instruments and equipment used in assaying, geochemical analysis and ore beneficiation research, as well as field investigations and mapping. He says some of the tools could go to the Last Chance Mining Museum. Computer equipment will likely be donated to the Juneau school district.

The museum's supervisor said among its staff of nine are

experts in assessing regional mineral deposits. Most of them are looking for work elsewhere and one has given notice. Two are scheduled to retire. Dewitt says they've played an active role in Juneau, including giving tours of Treadwell mine to school groups and offering classes about minerals and geology to residents.

DeWitt couldn't say for certain when the museum will close to the public but it could be as early as in the next four weeks. Until further notice, it's open from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.