Museum prepares for mammoth move to new fossil repository
VERNAL — Snow is the last thing Steve Sroka wanted to see in the long-range forecast.
"We're hoping that the good weather we have right now will still be good in two weeks," Sroka, park manager of the Utah Field House of Natural History Museum State Park, said at the beginning of the month. "Snow would not be good for us."
The snowy weather has arrived. But Sroka and his staff have packed up an estimated 33,000 dinosaur fossils, rock samples and other specimens for the move from the aging building where they've been stored to a state-of-the-art repository.
"If you were to move an entire neighborhood of houses, you're kind of looking at what we're up against here at the museum," said Mary Beth Bennis-Bottomley, the park's curator of education.
The $1.5 million for the new 11,664-square-foot fossil repository and laboratory building came from the Uintah Impact Mitigation Special Service District, which is funded by mineral lease moneys paid out by oil and natural gas companies working in Utah.
The building was added to the west side of the existing museum in Vernal. It will allow museum staff to properly store and prepare fossils and artifacts that have been discovered in the Uintah Basin.
These pieces of the area's prehistoric past have been stored in the dilapidated, 63-year-old building that used to be home to the Field House before the current museum opened in 2004. Without the new facility, many of the stored fossils and artifacts were destined for six museums in cities from San Diego to Pittsburgh, according to Utah State Parks and Recreation.
Still devoid of the compact shelving that's set to be installed next week, the new repository is a cavernous, climate-controlled space capable of housing decades of fossil discoveries, Sroka said.
"This room is about 8,600 square feet, which gives us about 2,000 to 3,000 more square feet of space (than the old building) for storage of specimens," Sroka said Monday, standing inside the repository.
The laboratory space features floor-to-ceiling windows along its east wall, which look out onto the museum's main hall. This will allow visitors to watch park staff and volunteers work on new fossil finds or on items that are already in the museum's vast collection.
"People can come and see how fossils are prepped, how they are cared for and what the real work entails to get a bone from out in the field into the exhibits for display," Bennis-Bottomley said.
The museum staff expects to begin moving fossils into the new repository Monday. After that, they'll hold a public open house near the end of the month.
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