Expert on the American West to take the reins at GJ museum

Peter Booth


Peter Booth

An expert in the American West with Colorado roots will take over next year as the executive director of the Museum of Western Colorado.

For Peter McMillan Booth, heading up the museum is an opportunity to expand into a new area — paleontology — and to hone skills he developed in Oregon and Arizona understanding the history of the West.

“I’m interested in all the opportunities the Museum of Western Colorado has,” Booth said. “I’m very attracted to the success of Dinosaur Journey and the many riches and treasures at the Museum of the West and to the potential of Cross Orchards.”

Booth, 49, worked for the last four years in Oregon at the Willamette Heritage Center at the Mill in Salem, Ore. He earned his doctorate in American West and native American history from Purdue University. He worked for the Arizona Historical Society-Tucson and the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, Ariz., before taking the job in Oregon.

Booth has deep — and not-so-deep roots — in Colorado already.

He was born in Denver as his family was passing through Colorado, but he never lived in the Centennial State.

His forebears, however, moved to Colorado in the 1880s and 1890s, predominantly in the Pueblo-La Junta area.

“I still have relatives in the state, so in a sense I’m coming home to Colorado,” Booth said.

Booth was easily the best choice for the museum board, said Ted Okey, who headed the search committee that sorted through 25 applications and interviewed eight candidates by telephone.

In the first interview, Booth emerged as a superior candidate and in a visit was the clear choice for the job after he met with the board, staff and volunteers, Okey said.

The board is particularly interested in Booth’s ideas for Cross Orchards Living History Farm in Fruitvale, Okey said.

“We really haven’t found the right formula to bring that place to life in terms of attendance,” Okey said, noting that the Willamette Heritage Center that Booth has headed for four years bears some similarities to Cross Orchards.

Booth emailed Okey several suggestions for Cross Orchards soon after he visited, and was taken by the packing shed on the site, Okey said.

Whatever the future of Cross Orchards, it won’t be a solution from elsewhere, but will be the result of a “learning process,” Booth said.

Booth will report for work on Jan. 14, when he’ll replace Mike Perry, who is retiring.

Perry will remain connected to the museum as a volunteer and by heading some of the tours the museum sponsors.

“I’ll do whatever I can, but not get in his way,” Perry said.

Booth and his wife, Dana, have three sons, ages 10, 8 and 6, the eldest of whom is excited about volunteering on a dinosaur dig, Booth said.

He said he welcomes the museum’s relationship with Colorado Mesa University and the Western Investigations Team, which is a joint venture of the two institutions.

In taking over the reins of the Museum of Western Colorado, Booth is moving to an organization about double the size of the one he now heads. The Willamette Center has a $750,000 annual budget, about half that of the Museum of Western Colorado.

Booth already is familiar with western Colorado from vacations and passing through the Grand Valley, and his family enjoys camping and hiking. He’s also looking forward to teaching his sons to fish and hunt, Booth said.

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