OGDEN — It’s a new look for some extremely old bones.
Since Dec. 31, the George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park, at 1544 E. Park Blvd. in Ogden, has been closed for museum renovations and the installation of a new permanent exhibit. When it reopens on Jan. 15, the museum will be packed with a greatly expanded selection of dinosaur bones and related paleontological items.
The park’s Education Director Jeff Bond has been working, Tetris-like, on the layout of the new material.
“We’ll have several — and when I say several, that’s a dramatic understatement — more items on display in the museum,” Bond said. “In trying to put a number on it without totally spitballing, I’d say the indoor exhibit is at least half again as large as it was, just in terms of stuff.”
Much of that “stuff” was acquired from a former traveling exhibition curated by Western Paleontological Laboratories, the folks behind the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point, in Lehi.
“They were retiring, and looking for a good home for this material,” Bond said.
He concedes the exchange cost “a pretty good chunk of change — we’re talking in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
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But while negotiating prices is one of his least favorite aspects of the job, Bond said this negotiation was the most pleasant he’s ever taken part in.
“Western Paleontological was good to us,” he said. “They could’ve sent the exhibit material back East somewhere, but I think they liked that it was staying here in Utah, so close.”
Bond says the new acquisitions will add about eight new types of dinosaurs. More importantly, it plugs the holes in the museum’s collection of Jurassic-era fossils.
“This completes the Jurassic ecosystem here with this addition,” said Josh Cotton, a paleoartist with the dinosaur park.
As visitors first enter the indoor museum at the park, they’ll be treated to “more armor and more teeth,” according to Bond. The idea is to grab visitors’ attention right off the bat.
One of those additions will be the skeletons of a Ceratosaurus and Tanycolagreus, locked in battle.
The new exhibition was made possible through a generous donation from the Stewart Education Foundation, according to Cotton.
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The Eccles Dinosaur Park features everything from 500-million-year-old microbial mats called stromatolites to a 9,000-year-old woolly mammoth skeleton — and nearly everything in between.
Last year’s big addition to the park’s outdoor dinosaur menagerie was a life-sized replica of a Spinosaurus — a 45-foot-long, two-legged crocodile with giant hooks for claws and a 6-foot-tall sail on its back. Bond says that display has probably been the biggest attraction of late, since visitors “like them big, and they like them with teeth.”
The dinosaur park has been on a “real growth trajectory,” both in exhibit additions and visitors, according to Bond. In 2016, it saw about 126,000 visitors. And although final numbers haven’t been calculated for 2017, Bond estimates the number of visitors increased by 15-to-20 percent.
“This past year was a huge year for us,” he said. “A lot of it would be attributed to the Spinosaurus, but I think that will now carry over with this new indoor exhibit.”
Bond also believes their changing mission has attracted more visitors. But with this renovation, Bond says the museum’s approach is much more educational. They’re now trying to show visitors how paleontology works.
The museum features a working fossil lab, although it’s not doing its own independent research, according to Bond. Rather, the lab assists The University of Utah with its fossil material.
“We’re kind of a satellite lab, and with this educational shift we’re hoping to be able to do some of that original research,” he said. “Being able to fully do that is still some years out, but we do have some unprepared fossil material we’ll be working on.”
The George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park will reopen on Martin Luther King Jr. Day — Monday, Jan. 15. Winter hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and students, and $5 for children. Call 801-393-3466 for more information.
Bond said the staff is working hard to finish the renovation by the reopening date.
“We’ll have some late nights, but we’ll be ready,” he said.