“I wanted to be a park ranger,” says Colorado Springs-born Nathan Richie, director of the Golden History Museum and Park. “My first job was as a tour guide at Cave of the Winds.”
Richie worked for the National Park Service in Massachusetts and in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon for two seasons, but soon learned that he didn’t want to live in the middle of nowhere. “Chaco had a really cool visitor center museum and I got some experience to see more of the museum side of things, so I change my path.”
Photo: Nathan Richie sitting outside of the Golden History Museum
After getting his graduate degree in museum studies, Richie moved to Indiana to work with the Swope Art Museum, then to Chicago to work for the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum. He and wife Jessie, an artist, decided it was time to move back to Colorado where there was more space to raise a family. The job of Golden History Museum Director became available, and Richie has been in that position for nearly 13 years.
“I like operating a cultural institution. I like it being a community location. I think it’s so cool that museums are integrated into the identity of a town,” says Richie. “I like the business of the museum and making it come alive with the different stuff we do, the art, the artifacts, the history, the stories.”
Richie realized that the $5 admission to the museum charged at the time was a deterrent to many. After a donor underwrote the yearly $10,000 amount generated by the admission fee, things began to change. “We went free to see what it would be like, and our attendance went up 500%! It clearly had an impact. I would much rather be free. There’s just no barrier, and anyone can come in here. It doesn’t matter who you are or how much money you have. Or if you want to spend five minutes or an hour here. Our gift shop sales have gone up too, our donations have gone up and our memberships have gone up. In the end it was a good move.”
Richie is working on weaving together the museum and the adjacent Clear Creek History Park as well as developing a space to tell the stories of indigenous history of Golden and the Front Range. He has also created the Salon, a place where the museum can highlight local artists and viewers can experience different dimensions of culture and art as history. Says Richie, “Museums are often so stuff oriented, like teapots and old photos. I think it’s fun to bring in an artist’s lens to look at a community.”
What advice would Richie have said to his younger self wanting to be a park ranger? “I would say continue pursuing your dreams. You never know where the path may lead you. It’s just as important to find out what you don’t like. Be flexible, adaptive and love what you do.”