Preservation Magazine, Winter 2016

Inspiration: Group Effort at Grand Teton National Park

Mormon Row

photo by: Ryan Sheets

It’s not just the majestic mountains and miles of trails that have drawn Judith Taylor and Ed Brown to Grand Teton National Park every summer for the past 20 years. It’s also the northwestern Wyoming park’s hundreds of old buildings. This past summer, the Lansing, Michigan-based couple marked two decades with Michigan Volunteers, a team they organize each year to help preserve these structures.

The group first formed in 1995, after Taylor and Brown met a descendant of early homesteaders who was concerned about her family’s dilapidated cabin. With the blessing of park officials, the couple gathered volunteers to work on the circa 1912 structure. They replaced the roof, propped up the walls, and rebuilt the porch.

And they saw that there was plenty more to be done. “That sense of saving history kept us going back,” Taylor says.

Throughout the years, Taylor, a mental health professional, and Brown, a retired teacher and active Habitat for Humanity volunteer, have organized hundreds of people to work on structures ranging from small pump houses and chicken coops to the 100-year-old T.A. Moulton Barn, as well as buildings within White Grass Dude Ranch, a National Treasure of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Park employees, such as architectural conservator Harrison Goodall, teach them preservation techniques.

“We have a motto,” Taylor says. “We say that it’s not about working well, but about working well together. It’s about fun times with good people in a beautiful place, and we’re getting something important done.”

With limited resources available for preservation, park officials rely on their many dedicated volunteers from all over the country—including U.S. Forest Service employees, retired state historic preservation office staffers, writers, professors, and descendants of homesteaders.

“They’ve put a lot of manpower and love into the buildings,” says Shannon Dennison, the park’s cultural resources branch chief. “They’ve really proven what volunteers can do.”

Inspired by this strong community support, the park is launching an official volunteer program this year called the Grand Teton Hammer Corps, backed by the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, a nonprofit that provides critical funding and other assistance to the park.

“My hope is to draw even more people who have this dedication and desire to save our history,” Dennison says. “I don’t think we would have been able to start this program without the successful model demonstrated by our volunteers."

UPDATE: Grand Teton National Park began recruiting for its newly launched Grand Teton Hammer Corps in February. The park is seeking a seasonal Preservation Volunteer Group Leader, who will serve as leader of the Grand Teton Hammer Corps, and a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador, who will serve a one-year appointment to help develop the program.

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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