$6 Million Museum to Open in Vernal This Summer

$6 Million Museum to Open in Vernal This Summer

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A $6 million museum in northeastern Utah will be the new home to 17 life-sized replicas of prehistoric life.

The new Utah Field House of Natural History in Vernal is scheduled to open in June.

"Oh, it's wonderful," said Vernal city manager Ken Bassett on a tour of facility. The old Field House, about five blocks away, was more than 50 years old and in need of extensive renovation.

Instead of rebuilding it, the 2002 Legislature funded a new facility, he said.

The 17 life-size replicas of prehistoric life, presently at the old museum, will be moved to the new facility, he said.

"It's incredible. It's a state-of-art museum," Bassett told the Deseret Morning News.

"The contractor is almost finished with the bricks and mortar portion of the museum, and the exhibits people are in there right now starting their work."

Heather Campbell, a longtime supporter, said the new museum has been in the planning stages for eight years.

"The center core of the building is a great big circle, and then the building is almost in the shape of a chambered nautilus. It's a beautiful building."

As visitors walk through the Field House, the experience is like walking through different periods of geologic history, with sections covering such periods as the era of the trilobites or the much later dinosaur eons.

"The walls are curved inside and out," Campbell said. "As you stand in the center of it, it's almost as if you're standing in the very center of the Uinta Basin."

If federal funding is approved by Congress, a state-of-the-art $6 million fossil repository and research lab would be built next to the Field House. The repository's formal name would be the Uintah Research and Curatorial Center.

She said the proposed repository would be a joint project involving Utah's state parks, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

Many fossils have been excavated on federal and state land over the years, as the region is rich in paleontology, she said.

Fossils are not easily accessible to scientists who wish to study them, she added. Fossils found on state land, BLM land and at Dinosaur National Monument are kept in several different locations. A new building could house all of them.

There are about 600,000 items in Dinosaur National Monument's collections now scattered in 17 different locations, some of which do not meet federal standards.

Besides storage, the new repository would offer a study area and a working laboratory. Visitors would be able to watch scientists work.

She believes the repository eventually will be built. "It's just a question of timing, and hopefully the funding will come through soon."

Robert Starr Waite, the Salt Lake man dubbed the "father of Great Basin National Park" for his tireless work on behalf of that eastern Nevada attraction, thinks the repository bill may help with the project he is now championing, changing Dinosaur National Monument into a national park.

"When you're a monument, you're in the same category as battlefields," he said. The dinosaur remains of the northern Utah-Colorado border region deserve more attention than a monument offers, Waite said.

"It would be the only paleontological park in the U.S. and possibly the world," he said. "People don't understand what they have here."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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