- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2006

VERNAL, Utah (AP) — The National Park Service can only watch as a visitor center that was built over a dinosaur bone quarry slowly splits apart, making do with patchwork repairs as the building crumbles.

It has been a problem at the center at Dinosaur National Monument since it was built in 1957, but officials say the pace of the disintegration is increasing. Gummy, clay soil under the building swells when wet, and the concrete basement floor has warped. When the bentonite clay soil dries, it crackles like popcorn and shifts parts of the building again.

“It’s like a fun house,” said Dan Chure, chief paleontologist at the monument. “There’s some everyday work that needs to be done to make sure the doors close.”

The Quarry Visitor Center, about 20 miles east of Vernal, is considered safe — for now. Officials keep it open with stopgap repairs, and keep track of a web of cracks on exterior walls.

Plans to fix or rebuild the building are on a wish list subject to congressional approval. The National Park Service wanted to start work in 2008, but the Gulf Coast hurricanes last summer and the war in Iraq forced a reallocation of federal spending that delayed the work at least until 2010, said Becky Nebs, who supervises building projects for the Park Service’s Intermountain Region.

An extensive rehabilitation is estimated to cost $6.9 million and would anchor the center to bedrock with 80-foot-deep foundation pillars. It would cost more to tear down and replace the building, a subject of debate inside the Park Service because that would strip the building’s designation as a National Historic Landmark.

The center, shoehorned between a pair of sandstone ridges near the Green River, is the only place at the monument to see dinosaur fossils, and it gets about 300,000 visitors a year.

It was built partly over a sandstone ridge, where in 1909 Carnegie Museum paleontologist Earl Douglass spotted eight fossilized Brontosaurus tail bones.

Mr. Douglass spent 15 years excavating what turned out to be a bounty of bones from an area barely the size of a basketball court. In the 1930s, a crew split open the ridge to reveal more dinosaur fossils, and the National Park Service reopened the quarry in 1953 for careful excavation. Today, more than 2,000 bones are still embedded in a slab of sandstone inside the visitor center’s atrium.

The visitor center houses some park offices, a gift shop, workshops for chiseling Jurassic-era fossils from rock and a glass atrium that extends over the bone graveyard.

Most visitors are oblivious to the creeping damage at the visitor center, said Mary Risser, superintendent of Dinosaur National Monument.

The need for continual repairs is a drain on the staff, which also has to keep up with maintenance of campgrounds, roads and trails, officials said.

Another problem: The glass walls “move when the wind blows — it’s a little bit of a concern to us,” said Gary Mott, facility manager at the monument. He said the building’s “saving grace” is a steel framework that keeps it from collapsing.

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