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Front Page » March 27, 2007 » Local News » Officials break ground at proposed prehistoric museum, Me...
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Officials break ground at proposed prehistoric museum, Mesozoic garden site

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Scott Banasky, Carbon County Commissioner Bill Krompel, and College of Eastern Utah President Ryan Thomas turn shovels of dirt while Mark Bingham holds a ceremonial shovel at the groundbreaking for the Mesozoic Gardens that will be built on the bluff above Castleview Hospital. Once the gardens are completed, plans include building a new CEU Prehistoric Museum adjacent to them.

Mark Bingham came to Carbon County in 1967 as a fish and game officer for the state. Born in Vernal, he had been to Price many times, but always thought it was on of the ugliest places he had seen.

But after a few years of residing in the area, Bingham came to respect the stark beauty that was Carbon County. He also began to understand what many people loved about the place.

It was also in Price where he started to build a telephone directory business. He eventually quit his state job and become a successful pioneer in alternative directories. Along the way, he acquired property on the bluffs above Castleview Hospital that one day he intended to use as the headquarters for his business.

But plans change and, last week, Bingham turned the first shovel of soil that will lead to the construction of a world class museum that will feature not only dinosaurs, but the flora the prehistoric animals lived among.

The site overlooking Price will be the home of the new College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum and Mesozoic Gardens.

"I always thought this was a great spot for an office because of the view," said Bingham, who donated the property to the college. "Now it will be the site of a great museum."

The idea of developing a Mesozoic garden at what is growing to be a world-class prehistoric museum could be a travel draw tourists cannot resist.

Sinan Oguan, the managing director of Global Studies Institute, came up with the idea a few years ago.

GSI was formed as a non-profit educational organization in 1987.

The creation of the organization stemmed from the concept that students needed experiential learning as much or more than textbooks.

GSI is headquartered in Queensland, Australia, at a location inside the shoreline facing the Great Barrier Reef and in the Ancient Gondwanan Rainforest.

The founders decided to place the headquarters at the location because of the site's natural beauty and the fact that the area has ecological significance when it comes to field studies and research.

But the founders have also sought out other places in the world where unique settings and circumstances exist.

Reece Barrick, CEU museum director

Eastern Utah and Carbon County have a rich Mesozoic period history, uncovered shorelines and geology.

According to Oguan, the area has the perfect soil to grow closest thing to a complete Mesozoic garden of anywhere in the world.

The proposed facility will house hundreds of species of plants, with a direct lineage to the plants of a time more than 65 million years ago. It would be the only garden of its kind in the world. The idea is to build a new College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum alongside the garden, where the facility could be easily seen from U.S. Highway 6.

"Imagine what it will be like," said Reece Barrick, director of the present museum. "Live plants with the fossils and reproductions of the creatures that lived during the period. "

But the conservatory could be much more than just a place where families travel to take in what it might have been like during the last portion of the age of dinosaurs.

The proposed complex and supporting facilities could become a classic place to study ancient times and could also become the breeding ground for plants of all kinds that could be exported around the world.

While the originals would come from other places as tissue cultures and not as whole plants, as the organisms were grown and put in one place, the local area could become the source for many of the unique forms of flora through micro-propagation. In fact at the present time many plants are now being grown in the CEU greenhouse, with others being raised in California and Florida. Soon the college will be moving at least some of the growing plants to the Hunter plant greenhouse as well.

Some in the area, have questioned whether the draw would match the hype that is being put out about this project, but the proof could lie in an area similar to Price that exists about a thousand miles north of Utah.

The eastern Utah area has often been compared to Drumheller, Alberta, Canada, in terms of size, geography and location in relation to large metropolitan areas.

Drumheller has the world renowned Royal Tyrrell Museum. The city is in the middle of the Canadian badlands and is about 100 miles northeast of Calgary, a metropolitan area about the size of Salt Lake.

An artist's conceptual sketch depicts what the Mesozoic gardens could look like. Some residents and elected officials question whether the constructing the Mesozoic gardens will be economically viable, other people believe that the project would bring added tourist attractions to the Castle Valley region.

According to information published by economic officials, due to its unique Badlands topography, the Drumheller Valley has always appealed to tourists.

Recognizing the potential, the government of Alberta established the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Since its opening in October 1985, tourist traffic to Drumheller has increased from 100,000 visitors per year to over 400,000 per year.

According to Alberta tourism, the Drumheller Valley has now become the third most popular tourist destination in Alberta.

Finding the right piece of property for the facility was a dilemma at first. But soon after the project was formulated, Carbon Commissioner Mike Milovich talked with Barrick and suggested that the college approach Bingham about the property.

The parties started talking and Barrick said both sides threw out ideas about what would go on the property. Within a short time, Bingham offered to donate the land to the college and museum.

"He wasn't in the audience on Friday," said Barrick later. "But Mike's idea was a very good one."

Bingham's property was a start for the gardens, which Barrick indicated could open in 2009 if plans proceed correctly.

"Mark donated 19.5 acres for the project," said Barrick. "It was a great beginning to this project."

Funding for the building has not been secured. But Barrick said CEU officials are confident the college will be able to start building the structure for the gardens next spring.

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