Dinosaur fossil bed found in Moffat County could bring tourism boom over the course of the next decades
With the recent discovery of dinosaur bones on the western side of Moffat County, opportunities in tourism both during the dig and after could soon affect communities in the area.
Specifically, this could have a major impact on the small town of Maybell, which is said to be the closest civilization to the dig site. However, tourism experts in the county say this is a great find for all of Moffat County. The actual site of the bones has been kept secret in order to protect the integrity of the site, but Liz Johnson at Colorado Northwestern Community College said it is just a few miles from the Utah border.
Based on the sheer size of the bed where the bones lay, it could become a major site for paleontologists and other researchers to dig and study. Paleontologists have already found what could be a rib bone that is estimated to be approximately nine feet long, with other large bones likely to follow. The site is also a long-term site, meaning that it could take upwards of 10 or 15 years to complete the project. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the region won’t see tourism impacted before then, though, according to Tom Kleinschnitz, director of Visit Moffat County.
“I think it has so much potential,” Kleinschnitz said. “For the county as a whole, with Craig being the basecamp for tourism, I truly believe having another quarry as a visitor opportunity (is good).”
Long-term impacts of the find could be monumental, Kleinschnitz said. Around 300,000 people visit the Jensen, Utah, side of Dinosaur National Monument every year, which features a wall of well-preserved dinosaur fossils that is viewed by visitors from across the country. In 1909, paleontologist Earl Douglass discovered eight dinosaur bones in a sandstone hill in the Utah desert – beginning the Carnegie Fossil Quarry that achieved fame as one of the most ecologically complete assemblages of Late Jurassic dinosaurs.
At the Jensen side, visitors can see the remains of numerous species of dinosaurs, and even touch fossils that are 149 million years old. According to information from the national monument, over 1,500 bones are still encased in rock in Quarry Exhibit Hall.
An exhibit of that proportion could be possible in Moffat County’s future.
With Craig as the potential basecamp for tourism and recreation on that front, Kleinschnitz said that the discovery is an “extraordinary find.” As Craig and the rest of Moffat County moves closer toward impacts of the Just Transition away from the coal industry, tourism and recreation will become all the more important when it comes to bringing in a sustainable replacement for local industry.
“There’s only one wall like that in the world,” he said. “To have a second wall is an exceptional possibility — and we realize fully that it’ll take a lot of time. It’ll take a lot of strategic planning (and) a lot of communication with paleontologists (and with) the Bureau of Land Management.”
Kleinschnitz added that connecting the community and visitors with the county’s public lands is an overall goal, not just one for the bones out west.
“Being visitor-ready is a goal. Part of the workshop we had (Tuesday) was talking about those exact issues,” Kleinschnitz said. “The attraction and the quarry site in Utah is visitor-ready, (and) it’s set up for 300,000 people each year. Having a paleontology exhibit ready and the same (in Moffat County) would take planning.”
Kleinschnitz added that the potential dinosaur attraction brings a unique plus to the Moffat County community. He said it fits within the community’s goal to stay authentic to its values, meaning that the fossils are a Moffat County resource that will benefit Moffat County residents.
“It isn’t what we’re building artificially,” he said. “It’s an asset that already exists in the county.”
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