Bring ‘em Home: Museum director makes fundraising pitch to community, provides updates

Victoria O’Brien

On Monday, April 29, the board of the Big Horn Basin Dinosaur and Geoscience Museum  [BHBDGM} convened to provide an update to the public on its project planning, development, and goal-setting. In a presentation led by Dr. Erik Kvale, President, the board walked through such particulars as the who, what, and why, and made their case for greater community outreach and involvement.
“We’re aware that there is donor fatigue in a small town like Greybull. When you’ve got a mental health crisis, when you’ve got kids who need medical assistance, it can be tough to ask for money,” said Kvale, noting that funding had recently stalled at around 40% of the original goal. “A hundred bucks is a fortune to some people, but […] if we got enough people together, we could maybe do something [great].”
That something Kvale pitched on Monday is, indeed, great. The BHBDGM that the board envisions is a small, but mighty museum with the potential to house a world-class collection of prehistoric fossils and artifacts that would draw visitors from around the world into downtown Greybull.
Kvale began his presentation with an overview of the Greybull-Shell area’s history, zeroing in on Howe Quarry, which lies northeast of Greybull in the Coyote Canyon area above Shell. In the early 20th century, Howe yielded thousands of fossils and dinosaur skeletons, many of them the most complete and well-preserved from the Jurassic Era. Consequently, these fossils are among the most famous in the world. Among those unearthed in Shell’s dinosaur beds are the allosauruses Big Al and Big Al 2, the stegosaurus Sarah, and Baby Toni, the smallest and most complete baby sauropod. They have found homes worldwide, from Washington, D.C., to London to Tokyo and Switzerland. Kvale announced on Monday that several of these specimens will be cast anew and put on display at the museum, including both Big Al and Big Al 2 as well as Little Al, a juvenile allosaurus. In addition to the three allosauruses, Kvale’s connections and the outreach done by the non-profit’s board members have yielded more acquisitions and promises, among them a dozen allosaurus eggs cast from a mold in Brigham-Young University’s collection, which will be displayed alongside the three Al’s.
“We’re going to have the only allosaur family on display in the world,” fellow board member Nolan O’Neal told the assembly. “From egg to adult. And it’s easy enough for all of us who live here to think it’s cool, but there are people who are going to think that’s flat-out amazing and they’re going to bother to design their vacations around it.”
The family or allosauruses, along with full-body casts of Sarah, Baby Toni, and an adult sauropod (diplodocus) will form the backbone of the museum. The board also plans to build a exhibit around Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite, which is also located in Shell and believed to have been a shoreline of the Sundance Sea during the Middle Jurassic period. Kvale said the discovery of a plesiosaur — a marine reptile that would have swam in the Sundance — near Sheep Mountain was another story the museum would like to highlight.
Kvale pointed to several of the paleontologists who excavated these sites as deserving their own spotlight in the museum: Dr. Barnum Brown, who oversaw Howe Quarry excavations, and his protege, R.T. Bird, who would go onto work for the American Museum of Natural History [AMNH] and later uncover the Paluxy River dinosaur tracks in Texas. The board also hopes the museum is able to pay respects to Kirby Sieber and Bob Simon, who were instrumental in more recent discoveries around the Howe Quarry and Red Canyon areas. Kvale further highlighted the inroads that the board has made with the AMNH and Smithsonian — the AMNH, he said, was willing to return some of the original 1930s fossils excavated by Barnum Brown and his cohort to become part of the museum’s permanent collection. Dr. Kirk Johnson, the Director of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural was similarly amenable to the BHBDGM’s requests.
Greater still is the board’s vision for how such a museum might positively impact the area and the town of Greybull itself. Explained Kvale, “We’ve got all this tremendous science, [but] we see the opportunity for education, community enhancement, and economic [improvement]. It’s not just, you know, those of us who really geek out on paleo. There’s a real reason to bring this [museum] into Greybull and these would be three of the really big ones.”
Kvale pointed to the many local schools who already visit the area to show their students the Red Gulch Tracksite, explaining that a fully-operational museum could play an important role in expanding on that experience. It would also provide opportunities for local students to do primary research or attend special events and other hands-on activities, fostering their nascent interests in history, paleontology, and natural sciences.
The museum would also double as a social gathering space, including weddings and public lectures. Already, the BHBDGM hosts a series of lectures each summer, but Kvale sees the potential for the museum to draw in more guest lecturers and academics year-round.
Kvale, a Greybull-native, pointed to the town’s pride for its place in paleontological history as a key factor in why the museum belongs here. “Many of you probably already know […] the Greybull Junior High School used to be known as the Dinosaurs,” he said, bringing up an archival image of Greybull Junior High School’s 1938 banner. “Thanks to Sherri Wilkinson, who saved these banners when they had the Sugar Shack, the oldest is from 1938 and it’s not hard to see what the inspiration was. It was pretty clear Greybull was so inspired and so enthusiastic about the dinosaurs that were coming out of Howe that it became part of Greybull’s culture for 30 years.”
And, of course, he noted, all of this would bring money into the community. “In 2022, 3.29 million people visited Yellowstone,” Kvale explained. “Let’s say just 10% of those people came through our stoplight. If we could get a quarter of them to stop in Greybull to go to the museum and each of them spent five bucks, that’s a huge bump in our local economy. All of our businesses, from hotels to dining to stores, would benefit.”
With the conclusion of Kvale’s presentation about the museum’s contents and acquisitions processes, O’Neal spoke briefly about the proposed museum building, which the town of Greybull  has approved. Using architectural renderings to illustrate his point, O’Neal explained that the 3,000 sq. ft. space will be enough to house all of the exhibits Kvale described.
“It’s not huge,” he said. “You can do a lot with [this space]. When we went to the Black Hills Institute, they have packed everything they can into a former town gymnasium [and it works for them]. The thing that we already know that’s different is that there will be an appendix for the museum to connect to the library, which will expand it quite a bit.”
O’Neal also highlighted the building’s high ceilings, designed to accommodate the head height of certain dinosaurs, such as the sauropods, and open atmosphere to draw in and engage visitors.
“Erik lightly touched on it, but it’s a social space. You will be able to move freely, but the other aspect is that it looks welcoming, it will draw in tour buses and make them want to stop.”
Kvale concurred and added that they plan for interactive poses to draw audience interest and using lighting to dramatic effect.
The BHBDGM is, with the assistance of Carrie Hunt, the Greybull town administrator, deep in the grants application process to secure funding for the museum’s building and hopes to break ground in the next few years. Ultimately, the board noted, the building’s design will be at the discretion of the town. The board is also seeking to gauge interest and secure funding in other areas of the state.
“We’re trying to do outreach to get over to Jackson, to Cody, to Powell and elsewhere to really talk this up,” Kvale told the audience, “but we really need Greybull to step up, [too].”
He referenced the World War II Schools at War program, which was sponsored by the U.S. Treasury Department, as a potential example of how to harness the local community’s power to fundraise. In his research on the program, Kvale learned that at one school in Barton, Kan., 10 students raised enough money to purchase two Jeeps for the war effort. He’d like to see more excitement in the community and greater involvement in securing small, grassroots-level donations.
“What we really need is for [people] to come together and talk it out to try and get this going,” he said. “It’s not just going to be a handful of people out in Shell, it has to be a community effort.”
“Every donation goes entirely to the fund,” O’Neal added. “None of the money goes toward operating costs. It will get more exciting, especially as we secure more contracts, [but] the few years [we anticipate this taking] are going to go by very quick.”
To help the BHBDGM “bring ‘em home” or learn more, please visit