America’s 401 national parks are home to more than geysers, waterfalls, soaring granite cliffs, multi-colored canyons and roaming herds of bison. The parks also contain a good bit of human history – cabins, barns, houses and other buildings that link us to our past.

Preserving the landscape requires little more than letting it be. Preserving the history, well, that takes some work. And money.

Kolb Studio Grand Canyon historical photo

Blanche, Ellsworth and Emery Kolb at the the Kolb studio in 1904. Blanche married Emery in 1905. (Photo here and below: NAU Cline Library)

The Grand Canyon Association is launching a fundraising campaign to renovate Kolb Studio, a home and business built hanging over the canyon edge before the creation of Grand Canyon National Park. Brothers Emery and Ellsworth Kolb, who photographed tourists starting down the nearby Bright Angel Trail, built the studio 109 years ago and time has taken a toll.

“The forces of nature that created the Grand Canyon are pushing up against the house every day,” says Helen Ranney, associate director of philanthropy for The Grand Canyon Association.

The association is trying to raise about $400,000 to preserve and restore the three-story building. The project includes repairing and replacing structural beams, wooden porches and log and shingle siding. The exterior will be spruced up.

“Our goal is to have the building sit there for another 109 years,” Ranney says.

The Kolb brothers were more than businessmen; they were early explorers of the Grand Canyon, says Ranney.

Their photographs introduced many to the breathtaking vistas of the Grand Canyon.

During the winter of 1911-1912, the brothers filmed a journey down the Colorado River through some of the most daunting whitewater in the United States. They toured the country showing the film.

Seeing where the brothers worked and lived helps people connect to the history of the canyon, Ranney says.

Emery Kolb suspended from the Grand CanyonWhile most people think of the U.S. National Park Service as a collection of “landscape parks” one of the principal missions of the park service “is to preserve American history where it actually happened,” says Neil Mulholland, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation.

The foundation – the official, Congressionally chartered charity of America’s national parks and national nonprofit partner of the National Park Service – funds preservation projects across the country.

For example, the foundation paid to preserve and restore a Civil War-era farmhouse at Booker T. Washington National Monument in Virginia because “the building is specific to the history of the place,” Mulholland says. The foundation has also helped pay for the installation of sod roofs on two historic cabins at the Bar BC Dude Ranch in Grand Teton National Park, restoring the cabins to original specs.

“Parks are some of our best classrooms,” says Mulholland, who says the parks give students an opportunity for “three-dimensional learning.”

National parks are a place to get in touch with nature, certainly. They are also a place to get in touch with the history of our nation.

“Why do we do this?” Mulholland asks. “Not only so that history can be preserved, but so that it can be understood.”

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