New name, new plan for geoscience center

Nathan Oster

A retired geologist who grew up in Greybull and discovered what would later come to be known as the Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite has an exciting vision for the future of the Bighorn Basin Geoscience Center.

Erik Kvale shared it with members of the Greybull Town Council on Monday night, telling them that and his wife Angela are now retired and living in Shell and would like to expand the existing museum located in the Big Horn building in downtown Greybull.

Their vision is built on premise that if they do a good job of putting the “wow” in the story of the Big Horn Basin — and specifically, how it’s been the site of some of the most significant dinosaur finds in history — the tourists will stop, they’ll spend money and the town will benefit.

Holton and Lori Harter, who own the Big Horn, joined Kvale and his wife at Monday’s council meeting.  The building has been for sale, but the Harters have agreed to take it off the market and recommit to Kvale’s new vision for the museum.

While he acknowledges it’ll take a lot of work, Kvale believes the museum has immense potential.

He called the Big Horn Basin “a mecca for geologists and paleontolists,” noting that a large number of university geology field camps, academic institutions and research groups and the oil and gas industry use the Big Horn Basin outcrops as training grounds for students and staff as targets for world-class research on the origins of mountain and basin building, evolutionary changes in the fossil record and courses on how to find oil and gas.

Preserved in the Big Horn Basin, he said, is the story of the uplift of the Big Horn Mountains, the volcanic eruptions that produced the metal mines within the Absaroka Mountains and the bentonite mines of the Big Horn Basin, the beginnings of Yellowstone National Park and the violent eruptions that caused it.

Near Powell, there is a deposit of impact debris that records the day the dinosaurs died from an asteroid that landed in what is now the Gulf of Mexico.  This area also produced Big Al and, of course, the dinosaur track site between Greybull and Shell which shed light on a period of time where little was known about dinosaurs.  It’s also a little-known fact that the Sinclair logo featuring a dinosaur was inspired by the world famous Howe Quarry.

“There’s not one museum in the Big Horn Basin dedicated to telling this story,” he said.

Kvale said the existing geoscience center has been renamed the Bighorn Basin Dinosaur and Geoscience Musuem.  To make it more appealing, he’s proposing to incorporate museum quality dinosaur bones that are currently on display at the Greybull Museum, which has seldom been open in recent months.  Among the items that interest him are fossils, what was once dubbed the world’s largest ammonite, cates of Big Al I and the large sauropod ET.

They’d be relocated to the museum in the Big Horn, which already houses three world-class casts of rare dinosaur skulls, including Big Al II, the most complete allosaur ever found in the world, a cast of a stegosaurus skull and a better cast of ET.

Barbara Anne Greene, granddaughter of the late Bill Greene, was also present for Monday night’s meeting.  A number of items from Bill Greene’s collection currently on display at the Greybull museum would be moved as well.  Greene said it would please her grandpa to know that the items were being displayed instead of gathering dust in their present location.

For their part, Kvale and his wife will curate the fossils in the geoscience museum with help from outside specialists from the Smithsonian, Marshall University, Iowa State University and elsewhere.  They will also generate museum quality signs, including digital ones, that will present a brief story of the geology and paleontology of the Big Horn Basin with an emphasis on the ”wow” factor.  In addition, field trips and lectures will be planned this summer to support the museum.

Kvale said he and his wife are committed to having the museum up and running by the Days of ’49 and the all-school reunion, when he intends to solicit donations from alums returning to their hometown.

Council members voiced support for the vision.  Marvin Hunt was the only one to express any reluctance — and in his case, it was because of the impact it might have on the Greybull Museum, which holds a special place in the hearts of older Greybull residents.  Only the items that tie into the theme of the dinosaur and geoscience museum will be removed, however.  The rest will remain.

The council also plans to support the museum financially.  The budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 was up for second reading on Monday night.  Paul Thur, the town’s administrator/finance director, initially recommended a $3,000 earmark.   By night’s end, the council agreed to up it to $3,500, taking the additional $500 out of the fireworks line item.