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Front Page » August 15, 2013 » Opinion » The Wasatch Behind
Published 351 days ago

The Wasatch Behind


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By TOM MCCOURT
Guest Contributor

Paleo Progress

Back in 1961, a young geology teacher at Carbon College spoke at a meeting of the local rock and gem society. The young man from California told those assembled that they lived in one of the most unique and interesting areas of the United States and they really should have a museum where they could share the geological, paleological, and archaeological treasures of the region with the world.

Members of the rock-hounding club were inspired by the words Don Burge spoke that night, and soon a museum committee was formed. Through the efforts of Don Burge, the geology department of Carbon College - soon to be the College of Eastern Utah - funded the project and the new museum became a joint venture between the college and the community. Several prominent citizens were recruited and Price City donated the use of a single upstairs room above the civic auditorium. Carbon County's College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum was born.

It was a community project. Citizens were asked to bring relics and fossils to the museum for public display. Members of the museum committee organized amateur fossil and artifact hunting expeditions to scour the desert and canyons to find new specimens to fill empty shelves and improvised display cases. A museum board was organized with Don Burge as curator of paleontology and Dr. J. Eldon Dorman, a local eye doctor, serving as curator of archaeology.

Creating a new museum was an exciting adventure. As a teenager I was one of the first exhibitors. While not a member of the gem society, I often displayed my collection of arrowheads at the annual rock and gem show held at the Price National Guard armory. I was proud to loan some of my collection for temporary display in the new museum.

The community rallied and the new museum was a great success. People were proud to take friends, family and out-of-town visitors to see "their" museum. The place had a friendly hometown feel. The names of exhibitors were prominently displayed and a plaque on the wall listed the museum's founding fathers and governing board.

By 1971 the new museum outgrew its confining single room and Price City donated the city gymnasium so it could be expanded. The museum grew rapidly and its fame began to spread nationally.

In 1990, again primarily through the efforts of Don Burge, the museum was greatly expanded to include a hall of dinosaurs, offices, storage areas, workspace and conference rooms. Federal and state accreditation was granted in 1991 and the CEU Prehistoric Museum became a world-class institution. Don Burge turned the facility into a distinguished fieldwork and research arm of the college. Under his leadership they discovered 12 new species of dinosaurs.

The museum today is a remarkable accomplishment for a small town and a small college. It is accredited, professional, scientific, sophisticated and famous. It is a secure and proper repository for prehistoric treasures and a place renowned for paleo-studies. It is also a bigger tourist draw than the founders could ever have imagined. As a community we should be proud.

Last week I walked through the museum slowly and carefully, stopping at each exhibit to ponder and read the captions. Reflected in the glass, in my mind and memory, I could see the faces of all of those good citizens from the early years who dreamed and schemed and donated time, effort, money, and relics to make our museum a reality. There were dozens who helped make it happen. I won't list names for fear of leaving someone out.

I will say thank you to members of the old Castle Valley Rock and Gem Society, the Price City Council and the board of directors of Carbon College. Thank you to Doctor J. Eldon Dorman; may he rest in peace knowing that his good works are known and appreciated. A special thank you to Don Burge, whose vision, hard work and leadership carried this project for 50 years. May his tribe increase forever.

If you haven't been through the museum lately, take an hour or two and check it out. The displays are great and the current exposition by local artist Terry Willis is stunning

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