Mineral information center opens museum

Posted: Friday, June 18, 2004

The John Rishel Mineral Information Center has been a hidden treasure of gold and other precious gems.

Few residents know of the center - located up a winding driveway in a wooded area on Mayflower Island in Douglas near the boat harbor.

A month ago center officials decided they had enough rocks, minerals, artifacts, maps and photographs to create a small museum. They named it the Tom Pittman Geology and Mining Museum after a longtime federal Bureau of Mines employee who died in 1992.

"The main reason we're doing this is to let the people of Juneau know there is a facility out here that has some historical and scientific items on display," center supervisor Chris DeWitt said.

The center has started new Saturday hours 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through September 18, in which DeWitt will be available specifically to talk to visitors about the museum pieces and services of the center.

It's also open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, but no staff is dedicated to answering questions and touring groups, said DeWitt, also a geologist.

The center is open to the public for free and seeks volunteers, he said. Its new Web site is http://juneau.ak.blm.gov.

Groups of 15 to 20 people can tour the center, which remains open after Sept. 18 for groups expressing interest.

The museum collection includes more than 300 rock and mineral specimens and 250 other artifacts from Southeast Alaska mining history and the Bureau of Mines Field Operations Center, DeWitt said. Specimens include fluorite, barite, bismuth and various minerals mixed with gold.

The center was built in 1952 as the Alaska Field Operations Center as part of the Bureau of Mines. In 1996, the Bureau of Land Management took over the facility.

In the future, DeWitt wants to create a walk-in model Southeast Alaska mine and possibly offer a geology camp in the summer.

Center officials plan to demolish some older buildings on the property and construct an addition to the main center by the end of 2007. The addition will provide space for a welcoming center for the library, conference rooms, offices and restrooms. They will replace the current facilities and allow for more museum space, DeWitt said.

The center will have a booth at Gold Rush Days on June 26 and 27. It plans to offer registration for children and adults interested in geology classes.

• Tara Sidor can be reached at tara.sidor@juneauempire.com.

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