Dinosaur National Monument Gets Funds for Visitor Center

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MIKE STARK
Associated Press Writer

SALT LAKE CITY—Some of the world's most famous dinosaur bones are about to come out of hiding.

Dinosaur National Monument will get more than $13 million in federal stimulus funds to demolish and replace condemned portions of its Quarry Visitor Center.

The center, which houses the nation's premier quarry of Jurassic-period dinosaur bones, has been closed for more than two years because of safety problems. Its closure for safety reasons in July 2006 frustrated paleontologists and dinosaur enthusiasts who were unable to access its 1,500 dinosaur bones.

The money for the project is among $750 million in stimulus projects for national parks announced Wednesday by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Park officials hope to finalize construction plans for the visitor center later this year and have the project under contract by early 2010. If everything goes as planned, the center could open by late spring 2011, according to Carla Beasley, the monument's chief of interpretation.

The visitor center was built in 1957-58 to shelter an exposed cliff face full of dinosaur bones discovered by a Carnegie Museum researcher in 1909. The National Park Service calls it the world's best window into late-Jurassic fossils.

But the center was built atop unstable clay. The bentonite swells when it's wet, warping the concrete basement floor, and shifts again when the clay dries out. That has meant near-constant shifting and repairs.

When engineers cut holes in the floor and ceiling for a closer look in 2006, the problem was worse than previously thought.

The center abruptly closed and today is still wobbling and unsafe.

"It's definitely still moving," Beasley said Wednesday.

Plans to fix or rebuild it have been bumped several times, partly because of uncertainty over how the work would be paid for.

Under the plan, the Park Service will rehabilitate the existing exhibit hall surrounding the 150-foot fossil wall to make sure the bones are protected and ready for public viewing. Other parts of the building would be demolished. An interpretive center and administrative offices would be built about a quarter-mile away.

Officials at the monument plan to mark the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the bones with a series of hikes, activities and presentations. The bones, though, will remain off-limits.

Dinosaur National Monument straddles the Utah-Colorado line, about 150 miles east of Salt Lake City. The visitor center is about 20 miles east of Vernal.

Other stimulus funds are coming to Utah's national parks, including about $945,000 for Zion in southern Utah. The money will be used to add solar panels at the park's headquarters, museum, visitor center and its emergency operations center.

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On the Net: http://www.nps.gov/dino/