Nonprofit of the Month: River of Time Museum

After an 18-month shutdown due to the pandemic, River of Time Museum & Exploration Center–which aims to engage, entertain, educate and inspire people about the Lower Verde Valley–reopened its doors in Fountain Hills in the spring. Here, Executive Director Cherie Koss discusses River of Time’s recent remodel and the fun events and programming the museum has in store this season.

How did the museum come to be? Recognizing the need to preserve the rich heritage of the Lower Verde River Valley, in 1989 several Fountain Hills residents gathered to form the Fountain Hills and Lower Verde River Valley Historical Society. The museum was named after one of the town’s first residents and owner of the local newspaper, Alan Cruikshank, and was originally located in Fountain Park.

In 2003, the River of Time moved to its current location when a $3.7 million bond issue funded construction of a joint library/museum building on town property, adjacent to the community center. The Town of Fountain Hills continues to provide the property, along with building services, a relationship that has helped sustain the River of Time since the opening in this location.

What can readers expect during a visit to the museum? The River of Time Museum celebrates the Lower Verde Valley River region and the people who inhabited what is now Fountain Hills and the surrounding communities hundreds of years ago. As visitors journey through the museum, they encounter exhibits that showcase the way desert dwellers – from the ancient Hohokam and the Yavapai to early ranchers and modern-day settlers – found ways to create an oasis in the desert.

With the recent remodel, the museum introduced several pre-human residents including Arizona’s official dinosaur, Sonorasaurus, a previously unknown brachiosaurid sauropoda, and a bat cave exhibit featuring local bats and research currently being conducted by the local McDowell Sonoran Conservancy field team. Partnerships with neighboring organizations like these allow for up-to-date and ever-changing information on research to be incorporated into future exhibits.

Interactive displays at the River of Time Museum include a one-of-a-kind, augmented reality sand table. The tactile exhibit can be manipulated to create topographic representations of mountains, streams and various weather patterns. Visitors can even play archaeologist, digging in the sand to uncover dinosaur bones. Another exhibit encourages visitors to “pack” for a trip across the country via covered wagon with a load limit of only 200 pounds. Decisions have to be made whether to include a treasured wedding dress (20 pounds) or another sack of flour (50 pounds).

What is the greatest reward in being involved with River of Time? The opportunity to share the rich and amazing history and ecology of the Lower Verde Valley region and its relationship to the rest of Arizona, the country and the world. If each visitor comes away with the understanding that what happens to our water resources locally affects and is affected by water resources globally, I will have done my job.

What is the biggest challenge it faces? Has the pandemic affected the needs of the museum? The appearance of the coronavirus in 2020, and the subsequent two-year pandemic including an 18-month shutdown of our facility, gave us an opportunity to reset and refocus. The Verde River has always been central to our mission, but a tweak has given us a new direction, a new focus and a plan for future sustainability, especially in the area of water conservation.

Our biggest challenge currently is to establish financial sustainability. Current trends dictate that we can no longer rely on large fundraising galas and large local grants for support. We need to build a base of supporters who believe in our mission and are willing to contribute to our long-term viability. We have dreams and plans for growth, including a capitol expansion, and we’ll need to be able to financially support this growth in the long-term. 

The Riverbanks Gift Shop

Tell us about the recent renovation. Interactive displays include a one-of-a-kind, augmented reality sand table. The tactile exhibit can be manipulated to create topographic representations of mountains, streams and various weather patterns. Visitors can also play archaeologist, digging in the sand to uncover dinosaur bones.

The changes made to the museum are the result of numerous discussions with our members, volunteers and community stakeholders, plus the inspired work of Michelle Reid and the Museum Pros team. Museum Pros is a locally based design firm specializing in supporting and renovating smaller attractions.

Partnerships with neighboring organizations like the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy (MSC) allows for up-to-date and ever-changing information on research that can be incorporated in future exhibits. A bat cave exhibit featuring local bats and research currently being conducted by the local MSC field team is one example.

New vignettes add dimension and character to the dramatically reimagined gallery space and include a life-size Sonorasaurus painted on the east wall, a mountain lion perched on a rock wall, a trapper working at collecting beaver pelts and archaeologists examining recently unearthed pottery.

The Riverbanks Gift Shop has also been updated and will offer locals and visitors a place to shop for unique, locally sourced gifts for every occasion. The expanded shop space is an extension of the art gallery’s exhibits. Each item is curated to connect to a story in the River of Time.

What are your goals for the remainder of 2022? We are excited to relaunch our “Living History” and outreach programs this fall. Service clubs, professional and community organizations are encouraged to request a visit from “Mrs. Carlos Montezuma,” “Stella, ranchers’ wife”, “Annie White” and several other characters who tell their story and how it relates to the Lower Verde Valley region. Coordinated by actress, Susie Veech, these presentations can range from 20 to 45 minutes. Executive staff and specially trained docents are also available to present outreach PowerPoint programs focusing on the River of Time and its programs.

Our main goal for the remainder of the year is to work with our Development Team to expand our donor program to include a Legacy program and increased participation by donors. It is our goal to have a minimum of one year’s operating budget in our reserve account and to open and fund an endowment account with action steps for continued growth.

How can readers help? Visit! We would love to share our extraordinary story. Joining as a River of Time member allows for unlimited free visits to not only the River of Time but to four other partner museums, discounts on programs, advanced announcement of special opportunities, a monthly newsletter and a 10 percent discount in the Riverbanks Gift Shop. Membership is just $25 per person or $35 for a family of four. We would also welcome donations to our “Make A Splash” campaign. We will raise $30,000 by the end of February and celebrate at our World Water Day festival. There are interesting milestones along the way. Anyone interested in finding more about Making a Splash for the River of Time can visit

Does River of Time Museum have any events or fundraisers on the horizon? 

Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation/River of Time Tour:

Exploration experiences were first launched pre-pandemic and will be reintroduced this fall. The extremely popular Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation (FMYN)/River of Time experience is offered Nov. 10 and will also be offered once per month from January through April. Information and tickets can be found at This four-hour exploration experience takes participants on an interpreted bus tour through the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation reservation. Clissene Lewis, Yavapai native, shares stories of her ancestors and information about this highly-successful local tribe. Stops are made at the Wassaja pre-school, cultural center and church. Although stops aren’t made, much information is shared as the bus drives through the cemetery and agricultural groves. A very nice lunch is provided at the WeKoPa Resorts Ahnala restaurant. Cost for the tour is $75. Tours generally sell out so early reservations are recommended.

Fantastic Foragers:

The newest exploration experience is offered on Oct. 25 and Nov. 9 in 2022 and dates are also available in 2023. Tickets and information can be found at Partnering with MSC, the River of Time hosts these four-hour interactive, exploration walks. Participants meet at the Lost Dog Trailhead in Scottsdale for a moderate stroll led by a MSC steward who shares information on how the ancient people sourced food and medicine in the desert. Participants are encouraged to take on the role of either hunter or gatherer collecting various plants and seeds. On returning to the River of Time Museum, a docent helps participants explore the unique ancient peoples exhibits to discover more stories about how these ancients thrived in the desert.

Holiday Mart:

Our biggest fundraiser is an annual event much loved by locals. We invite neighbors throughout the Valley to come shop for a diverse selection of holiday décor and gifts. These gently used items have been refurbished by our volunteer elves and priced well-below retail. Merchandise is continually being restocked so repeat visits are encouraged. This year we have the biggest selection of trees and decorated wreaths ever. Holiday Mart runs from Nov. 15 to Dec. 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

In 2023…

In addition to additional dates for the FMYN/River of Time and Fantastic Foragers tours, we will be celebrating World Water Day with a huge festival in Fountain Hills in March. Dynamic guest speakers, state water authorities, a variety of water related vendors and interactive family activities will highlight the festival.

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