Geoff Liesik, Deseret News
Mary Beth Bennis-Bottomley, curator of education at the Utah State Field House of Natural History Museum State Park in Vernal, listens as park volunteer Dale Gray talks about the challenges of preparing and preserving fossils in a dilapidated facility. Uintah County will spend $1.5 million to build a new fossil repository as an addition to the state park museum.
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VERNAL — Uintah County will fund the expansion of a popular state park in Vernal.

The county, through its Impact Mitigation Special Service District, will spend $1.5 million to build a new repository and lab facility for the Utah Field House of Natural History Museum State Park.

The move comes as lawmakers consider whether to cut the budget for state parks across Utah, which could force some parks to close. Uintah County commissioners have opposed such cuts for the Field House, citing the role it plays in bringing tourism dollars into the region.

"The community is very positive toward dinosaurs and dinosaur bones," Uintah County Commission Chairwoman Darlene Burns said. "These are things we find locally and this has been a great tourist draw."

Commissioners are seeking to encourage more tourists to visit Utah's "Dinosaurland," Burns said. They see the investment in the repository as a step toward sheltering the region from the boom-bust cycle of the energy industry, she added.

"(Tourism) helps offset the ups and downs sometimes of the oil and gas industry," Burns said.

The existing storage facility was built in 1948 as the original Field House Museum. Mary Beth Bennis-Bottomley, curator of education at the current Field House Museum, can easily list all the things that are wrong with the building, which houses much of the state's dinosaur fossil collection.

"Leaking roofs, rusting boiler, water running down the walls," she said, pointing out each deficiency as she walks through the 63-year-old building.

The new 11,000-square-foot facility that Uintah County plans to break ground on in the spring will be "state of the art, as far as the lab and all the latest and best preparation tools," Bennis-Bottomley said. It will also have climate controls to ensure that fossils and artifacts aren't degraded by the wild temperature swings that take place in the existing facility.

One unique feature of the new repository will be a glass partition that will allow museum visitors to watch as paleontologists and other experts prepare fossils and artifacts for storage or display, Bennis-Bottomley said.

"To actually go to a museum and see how that work is done, I think that really gives you an understanding of what goes into the finding, the prep and the putting these things out on display," she said.

The Field House has seen an increase in visitors in the past month, Bennis-Bottomley said. She attributed that boost to the recent re-opening of the visitor center at nearby Dinosaur National Monument.

Email: gliesik@desnews.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik

By Geoff Liesik

Deseret News

VERNAL — Uintah County will fund the expansion of a popular state park in Vernal.

The county, through its Impact Mitigation Special Service District, will spend $1.5 million to build a new repository and lab facility for the Utah Field House of Natural History Museum State Park.

The move comes as lawmakers consider whether to cut the budget for state parks across Utah, which could force some parks to close. Uintah County commissioners have opposed such cuts for the Field House, citing the role it plays in bringing tourism dollars into the region.

"The community is very positive toward dinosaurs and dinosaur bones," Uintah County Commission Chairwoman Darlene Burns said. "These are things we find locally and this has been a great tourist draw."

Commissioners are seeking to encourage more tourists to visit Utah's "Dinosaurland," Burns said. They see the investment in the repository as a step toward sheltering the region from the boom-bust cycle of the energy industry, she added.

"(Tourism) helps offset the ups and downs sometimes of the oil and gas industry," Burns said.

The existing storage facility was built in 1948 as the original Field House Museum. Mary Beth Bennis-Bottomley, curator of education at the current Field House Museum, can easily list all the things that are wrong with the building, which houses much of the state's dinosaur fossil collection.

"Leaking roofs, rusting boiler, water running down the walls," she said, pointing out each deficiency as she walks through the 63-year-old building.

The new 11,000-square-foot facility that Uintah County plans to break ground on in the spring will be "state of the art, as far as the lab and all the latest and best preparation tools," Bennis-Bottomley said. It will also have climate controls to ensure that fossils and artifacts aren't degraded by the wild temperature swings that take place in the existing facility.

One unique feature of the new repository will be a glass partition that will allow museum visitors to watch as paleontologists and other experts prepare fossils and artifacts for storage or display, Bennis-Bottomley said.

"To actually go to a museum and see how that work is done, I think that really gives you an understanding of what goes into the finding, the prep and the putting these things out on display," she said.

The Field House has seen an increase in visitors in the past month, Bennis-Bottomley said. She attributed that boost to the recent re-opening of the visitor center at nearby Dinosaur National Monument.

E-mail: gliesik@desnews.com Twitter: GeoffLiesik