HAYDEN -- For more than 30 years, the Hayden Heritage Center, which houses a collection of historical treasures and links to Hayden and West Routt County's past, has remained relatively secluded from the public eye.
That may change now that the museum in the old railroad depot on North Poplar Street has its first curator, Mary Pat Dunn of Craig. Dunn's part-time position was made possible by Routt County's Museum and Heritage Fund mill levy, which voters passed in 2003.
"The museum has always been a little hidden entity," Museum Board president Judy Green said. "Hopefully, Mary Pat can put the face of the museum out to the community and to tourists."
Dunn has 7 1/2 years of experience as a museum technician at the Museum of Northwest Colorado in Craig, where director Dan Davidson trained her in the finer arts of research and exhibit work. Budget restraints resulted in her job being cut, though she still helps with some projects at the museum.
Dunn's primary focus is the Hayden Heritage Center, where she recently started the huge task of cataloging inventory. When that project is under way, she plans to improve and update displays while giving the center more presence in the community.
"I think the museum is really in a position to give back to the community," Dunn said while taking a break from computer work in the center's quiet second-level office.
Dunn has been using PastPerfect museum software to document the museum's vast collection of textiles, photographs, saddles, trinkets and other items dating from settlers' first days in the Yampa Valley to oddities produced in the past 30 years.
Using the software, Dunn is documenting items with digital photos, historical notes and "all those little bits of information that add to the relevance of an item in the community," she said.
The project, which Dunn estimates will take her five to 10 years to complete, will help Dunn and museum volunteers keep track of items that are in storage, as well as when displayed items -- some of which are sensitive to light -- need to be placed in storage.
The database also will provide Dunn easy access to historical information, which may be requested by visitors or relatives of people who once owned the items, Green said.
"It's going to allow the museum to service more people," she said.
Dunn is looking forward to improving displays with more details, giving visitors an overall feeling for the girl who once wore the Camp Fire Girl dress or the man who was struck by lightning while sitting on a saddle now displayed in the museum.
"It will change not the context, but the way it speaks to people," said Dunn, who also is a landscape artist and does some work in the greeting card industry.
Dunn's other goals for the museum include more school outreach programs that may include "historical hunts" similar to those she organized at the museum in Craig. Dunn also wants to develop a brochure in which visitors experience a community by learning about its history and environmental assets.
"I'm really anticipating that's what's down the road for Hayden," she said. "I imagine the museum will be involved in that."
Dunn's passion is putting history's puzzle pieces together and learning not only about the hardships people used to endure, but the ways in which human nature never changes.
"That's what I've learned from history. ... You either feel joy in your existence -- and you would have 100 years ago, too -- or you find your existence fret with problems," she said. "Human nature is the same."