Colorado: Visits surge at Dinosaur National Monument

Spiffy new visitor center helps draw tourists

Dinosaur National Monument visitor center. Photo courtesy National Park Service.
Dinosaur National Monument is well-known for its trove of fossils, but also features an impressive array of indigenous rock art. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A new $13 million visitor center at Dinosaur National Monument has turned out to be a big attraction in northwest Colorado. The monument reported a huge surge in visitation in the first half 2012, up 47 percent from the previous year.

Recreational visits to the monument for the month of June alone totaled 44,847.

“While there is no way to predict what the monument’s visitation may be in the future, having the dinosaur quarry open to visitors again definitely increases the monument’s draw,” said monument superindentent Mary Risser. “Despite gas prices, the economy, above normal temperatures, and fires in many western states, people are still traveling and coming to the monument. Uintah County Travel and Tourism based in Vernal, Utah and Moffat County Tourism in Craig, Colorado have both been wonderful partners in helping spread the word about the monument and letting people know that the dinosaur quarry is open again.”

Dinosaur National Monument covers more than 210,000 acres along the border of Colorado and Utah. In addition to the world famous dinosaur fossils, the monument also features two rivers renown for white-water rafting and boating, numerous petroglyph sites and other evidence of human habitation extending back over 7,000 years, an array of plant and animal life, campgrounds, trails and scenic drives.

The new visitor center construction was funded as part of the federal stimulus package early in the Obama administration. The original visitor center, built in the 1950s, was closed in 2006 because of structural damage. Attempts had been made to stabilize the building over the decades, but health and safety concerns led the Park Service to close it for repair and reconstruction.

The new hall was built over the site of the world-famous Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry. It provides close viewing of almost 1,500 dinosaur bones from the Jurassic Period, all exposed on the cliff face where they were deposited about 149 million years ago. The new exhibit hall will also feature information and displays about the Jurassic environment and its inhabitants.

Exhibits in the new visitor center, which now is located down the hill and separate from the fossil quarry, will introduce visitors to Dinosaur National Monument’s natural resources, homesteading history, petroglyphs, geology, paleontology, and rivers. They are designed to stimulate the interest of visitors and encourage them to explore the 210,000-acre monument on their own. Interpretive and educational items also will be available for sale in the Intermountain Natural History Association’s bookstore.

The new visitor center also earned Gold-standard LEED certification, with skylights, low-flow restroom fixtures, photovoltaics and efficient utility systems all helping to make the facility eco-friendly.

“We incorporated sustainability into the building’s design and construction and then the operation and maintenance of the building,” Risser said. “We salvaged materials from the demolished visitor center and shuttle waiting area.

Other components of the sustainable design involved using local materials; the stone for the masonry comes from a quarry in Masonville, Colorado and landscaping boulders from quarries in Maybell and on Blue Mountain. Native plants are being used for a water efficient landscaping. The Yellow cedar used in the large beams across the ceiling came from sustainable forests.


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