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Senate set to affirm site

Jan. 21, 2010

Mammoths nearing final steps of park process

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Daniel Cernero | Staff Photographer
Mammoth fossils recently opened to the public at the Waco Mammoth Site Frida in Waco. After some 30 years since the original discovery, the site is now open to the public five days a week.

By Caty Hirst
Staff Writer

The Waco Mammoth Site is finally nearing the end of a long journey to enter the National Park System as legislation passes through committee hearings in the U.S. Senate.

Jonathan Cook, marketing coordinator for the city of Waco, said admission into the National Park System would be beneficial to the site.

"It's beneficial on many levels," Cook said. "One of them is the public awareness it will get from the status of being a national monument. To be on that level would really be something special."

The National Park Service did a study on the Waco Mammoth Site and is examining different ways to assist the site. A possibility includes the site being partially or fully staffed by the National Park Service.

"Getting guidance on how to run national parks and to be included in promotions and activities like that would really be a benefit to Waco," Cook said.

As stated in Bill S. 625, currently in the U.S. Senate, the National Park Service would administer the site in cooperation with the city of Waco and Baylor. The bill stipulates that Baylor and Waco must be given opportunities to develop educational programs on the site and be allowed to continue to develop and support it.

Anita Benedict, collections manager for the Mayborn Museum, said Baylor has been involved with the Waco Mammoth Site since its discovery in 1978.

Staff members from Baylor's Strecker Museum helped initiate the excavation of the site and correctly identified the fossils as the Columbian mammoths. Baylor staff members continued to help excavate the site through the late 1990s.

The National Park Service recognizes Baylor's involvement with the site and wants Baylor to maintain its involvement with the site, according to Katherine Stevenson, acting deputy directory for the National Park Service.

"From the time the site was discovered until the present, the university and the city have managed the site responsibly," Stevenson said in a statement to the Senate subcommittee on National Parks. "The SRS (Special Resource Study) examined a range of proposed options for the NPS (National Park Service) involvement at the site. We believe that NPS joining in partnership with the city of Waco, Baylor University and others would offer the most effective and cost-efficient management of this unique resource."

The Mayborn Museum at Baylor is responsible for the long-term preservation of the fossil material at the Waco Mammoth Site, which includes monitoring temperature, humidity, pests and light inside the dig shelter.

The Mayborn Museum also houses a collection of mammoth fossils removed from the Waco Mammoth Site.

"We are extremely pleased that Congressman Chet Edwards and Senator John Cornyn have sponsored the bills to officially give the site the designation of national monument," Benedict wrote in an e-mail to the Lariat. "We look forward to the day when the National Park arrowhead symbol will be proudly displayed at the Waco Mammoth Site."

The legislation in the Senate includes information gathered from the Special Resource Study on the Waco Mammoth Site, which found that the site meets the criteria to become a unit of the National Park System.

Stephen Whitesell, associate director of park planning, facilities and lands for the National Park Service, supports the site becoming a national monument.

"The resource possesses exceptional interpretive value and superlative opportunities for visitor enjoyment and scientific study," Whitesell said in a statement to the House subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands.

The Waco Mammoth Site houses the nation's first and only recorded nursery herd of Pleistocene mammoths. Since the discovery of the site, 22 mammoths have been uncovered, as well as a camel and a tooth from a saber tooth tiger.

The Waco Mammoth Site is open to the public and located at 6220 Steinbeck Bend Road in Waco.

Admission for adults is $7.