For years many area citizens, as well as those from far away, have been supporting the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum through an organization called Utah Friends of Paleontology (UFOP). UFOP is a statewide, non-profit, volunteer organization which is dedicated to preserving Utah's fossil resources and providing volunteer support to sponsoring institutions.
In October 1992, with the assistance of the state UFOP organization, the Castle Valley "Raptor Chapter" was granted its charter. Original chapter members included John Bird, Don Burge, Ken and Michelle Fleck, Bob and Margene Hackney, Carl Limone, Pat and Carol Sue Martinez, Duane and Joan Taylor, and Clark and Barb Warren.
Being a member of UFOP has many privileges. Among them is the opportunity to participate in the excavation and preservation of fossils; the gathering of information about ancient life; training, certification, and educational programs; sponsored field trips and volunteer work for museums; and university and state paleontological research.
Don Burge, founder and past director of the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum, remarked that, "A large percentage of significant dinosaur finds are by rockhounds and volunteers. With its highly-regarded reputation and renowned collection, the Museum would not exist in its present state were it not for the experience, talent, and thousands of hours of dedicated service by these volunteers." Barb Benson, volunteer and current president of the local "Raptor Chapter," commented, "It's unusual for amateurs and untrained individuals to be involved to this extent in the surveying, excavation, and final preparation of dinosaurs and other ancient life. More commonly, this type of work is reserved for professionals and highly-trained assistants. Similar opportunities are available through some private and commercial organizations with permits, but participants are charged a substantial fee."
John Bird, lab and field supervisor, began his association with the museum in 1989 as a volunteer. He eventually worked his way to his current full-time position overseeing paleo excavations and bone lab operations. Several new dinosaurs have been excavated, named, and prepared for study during John's tenure. UFOP member Marvin Evans was also a familiar face in the bone preparation lab for many years. Evans worked as the bone lab assistant until his recent retirement. Although Evans has been greatly missed, Bill Heffner has ably assumed the position of assistant bone preparator.
One need not have prior training to become involved. Volunteers work under the watchful eye of experienced museum professionals. They are patiently taught all of the basics and move on to more complex tasks as their skills progress. "All that's really necessary is a desire to contribute to the scientific and historical preservation of the area's ancient past, the ability and willingness to take direction, and an interest in being part of an organization that has contributed to the success of our Museum," said Bird.
Duties take place during hot summer days and the cool desert nights; volunteers face the dusty conditions, and treks through the most beautiful scenery imaginable. For those who may not be quite as adventurous, there are numerous volunteer opportunities inside the luxurious confines of air-conditioned comfort. The preparation of excavated bone specimens is a never-ending project, so many volunteers are needed in the lab. In the museum itself, volunteers are needed to give tours, assist with educational programs, and many other activities.
Anyone may join UFOP, and all are welcome to attend meetings. Meetings are held at 6:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month at the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum, followed by an educational lecture/presentation at 7 p.m.
For more information contact Barb Benson, Castle Valley Raptor Chapter president, at 435-820-1192.