A community is often known not only by it's people but by the institutions that represent that community. Carbon County has had many well known sons and daughters over the years, but the enduring legacy of many of those people are the agencies and institutions they committed service and time to.
One of those institutions is the CEU Prehistoric Museum. Since it's founding over 40 years ago it has grown from a small showcase of fossils, Native American relics and western memorabilia that was housed upstairs in the Price City Hall into a world class museum, with a collection of materials and fossils that is growing by leaps and bounds. Many people over the years have donated countless hours to the museum, including many of the paid staff who have always put in more hours than they are actually paid for to make this institution a success.
But times change and so has the museum business. Our museum (we all tend to think we are part of it) is in trouble; not deep trouble and nothing we can really put our fingers on at the moment, but the trouble that is coming is like an impending storm on the horizon. It hasn't reached us yet, but we better prepare for it or we will get wet or worse.
The problem is that the museum most of us so dearly love is not the only show on the block anymore. It used to be that, other than the museum at the national park in Vernal, it was the only museum that had truly wonderful exhibits on dinosaurs and prehistoric life in the state. But that has already changed and is changing more every day.
In the last three years, some things have happened in the state that is already affecting the visitor rate at our museum. First, Thanksgiving Point was constructed. This is a private museum that is located right in the middle of a population who used to come and visit our museum. A private entity with loads of money, this museum has basically "bought" it's exhibits and has hired professionals who are more interested in exhibiting what has been purchased than in the real science behind what they show. Unfortunately in this day and age of high tech and entertainment, the money is what has spoken to the public. In fact, many of the school children who were once bused to Price to see our museum, now go to Thanksgiving Point instead.
Reported, even some schools from eastern Utah have traveled there in the last year, forsaking their usual visit to our museum.
That is the part of the storm that is already here, and it has already dampened attendance at the prehistoric museum in Carbon County. But more of the storm is to follow.
The University of Utah recently announced the construction of a new multi-million dollar museum of natural history to replace the old one on University Circle on the U of U campus. The interest in prehistoric life has grown in the public's mind so much that this new museum will have much more emphasis on the past than it will on the natural science of the present, as it does now. That means more competition.
The Vernal area is also getting ready for the storm. For years, the dinosaur museum that is part of Dinosaur National Monument has done well, but new construction and projects are planned there as well.
Another project that could well affect our area is the proposed dinosaur museum in St. George stemming from the discovery of dinosaur tracks in the red rock of that region. With Washington County being tied to the I-15 corridor it would be the perfect attraction for that growing area.
But the museum in Price has meant much more than bragging rights to the community in past years. If a community is going to thrive in an economy like we have here, we need attractions that will get people off Highway 6 and into towns along the route. The museum has done that consistently over the years, moving uncounted dollars across restaurant, motel and store counters in the area from people who would not even have stopped for gas here if the museum didn't exist.
The last true expansion of the museum was well over a decade ago now, when the new addition was put on the west side. Since that time innumerable discoveries by the museum staff in the field have made the need for more expansion urgent.
Our museum has an advantage over many museums; we not only have the science, but we also have the exhibits to go with that science. We also have the people who perform the science and that science is right in our back yard.
This past week the Carbon County commissioners approved $20,000 from the restaurant tax fund to be used at the museum. Of that $10,000 will be used to promote the institution to others in other places and $10,000 will be used to upgrade exhibits.
Sounds like a lot of money doesn't it? But it is just a rain drop in the bucket compared to what the museum really needs to not only survive, but to thrive.
The college has also recently advertised for a full time paleontologist that will round out the staff at the museum. That will add more science and will give our museum even more credibility.
According to the old newspaper accounts, the originators of the museum saw this institutions future as being the centerpiece of a prehistoric park that would surround the Carbon County area. And so it is.
But unless those of us who are here today do all we can to support the museum, by volunteering time, by donating money, by helping with projects that will expand it scope and by selling our area and our museum to others outside our area, all of that science and those wonderful exhibits could go away very quickly under the pounding rain of competition in other areas of the state.
It is largely up to the citizens of this community if we want a world class museum in our area or a relic of the past that will fade into the storm of history.