Ogden Dinosaur Park would expand across Ogden River, new maintenance building key in plans
OGDEN — The proposed expansion of the George Eccles Dinosaur Park — central in the simmering dispute over the future of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah — would cross the Ogden River north of the facility’s current boundaries.
According to a conceptual design of an expanded facility dated Dec. 14, 2022, it would extend north and west of the facility as now configured, connecting to undeveloped land on the north side of the Ogden River via two bridges. The dinosaur park now covers around 8.5 acres of city-owned land, and that would grow to perhaps 13 acres under the expansion, allowing for more model dinosaurs to complement the 120 or so in the existing park footprint.
“It’s just conceptual,” Mark Wayment, chairman of the Dinosaur Park Board of Directors, said. Expansion plans are “very generic at this point.”
The first priority in expanding would be construction of a maintenance building where dinosaur models would be made and fixed, and where groundskeeping equipment would be stored, according to Wayment. The footprint of the building, called The Hatchery, would extend to the area where the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah, or WRCNU, now sits, according to Jay Lowder, figuring in the proposed demolition of that building.
Image supplied, City of Ogden
Talk of forcing WRCNU out and tearing down the operation’s building — owned by the city but leased for free to the organization for some 13 years — is the touchiest part of the debate over the future of the organization. WRCNU is a nonprofit refuge that nurses injured birds and small animals from the wild back to health. Many have pressed the city to give the organization more leeway in leaving its space next door to the Dinosaur Park, at 1490 Park Blvd., since the controversy surged in early April.
Particularly irksome to some is the proposed addition of a parking lot on space just south of the existing WRCNU building. According to the conceptual design from last year, a 131-space parking lot would be added to the space, abutting Park Boulevard.
That said, expansion plans have been in the works for years, originating as early as the mid-2000s, and WRCNU’s use of the city building was always envisioned as temporary, according to Ogden Chief Administrative Officer Mark Johnson. The city formally gave notice to WRCNU last March to depart its space by Sept. 6, but given the uproar, has extended that six months to next March if the organization meets certain conditions.
“Long term, it’s always been the plan that dino was going to expand,” Johnson said. The WRCNU needs “to be somewhere else and the city needs to move on with the plans to expand.”
Though no firm timeline has been set for Dinosaur Park expansion, Ogden City Public Services Director Jay Lowder said the Ogden Dinosaur Park and Museum Foundation has raised the funds for development of the maintenance building. The museum is operated by the foundation, a nonprofit organization, but the city owns the buildings that house the facility and the land where it sits.
Wayment, while lauding the WCRNU as a “much-needed operation,” also noted that since the fundraising drive started to expand the Dinosaur Park, the estimated cost of building the maintenance structure has grown from around $70,000 to $240,000.
The more time it takes for the WCRNU to move, “the more it costs” to expand, Lowder said.
What’s more, Wayment adds, the City of Ogden has been “more than generous” in providing the WCRNU a free place to operate over the last 13 years.
Ogden mayoral hopeful Angel Castillo has rallied strongly in defense of WRCNU. She first posted a version of the conceptual expansion of the Dinosaur Park on her Facebook page on May 18. She wonders why officials seem to be in such a rush to move forward with expansion and thinks both organizations can perhaps share the space where the Dinosaur Park is to grow.
“I think the Dinosaur Park is great and I think it should be expanded,” she said, but not at the expense of the wildlife cared for by WRCNU workers. For now, the WRCNU ought to be able to stay in its current building, she thinks, giving the organization time to launch fundraising efforts to build new digs on a more secluded portion of the Dinosaur Park expansion area.