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Baylor, park service plan mammoth site

Oct. 28, 2005

by TIFFANIE BLACKMON, staff writer

Baylor and Waco are joining in efforts to complete a resource study required by the National Parks System before plans get underway to begin actively working on the mammoth site located at the crossing of the Brazos and Bosque Rivers.

NPS is in Waco to gather information about the mammoth site and the city of Waco before they can begin turning the site into a national park according to guidelines set by United States' Department of Interiors.

Greg McDonald, NPS Subject Matter Expert, expressed his excitement about the mammoth site before discussing the state of the project and its importance.

"There are 387 units of parks and recreation as designated by NPS and, of those, 170 have fossils of one type or another," McDonald said. "Eight are designated because of their paleogical environment."

Waco's mammoth site could become one of them.

Patrons, who attended a focus meeting Thursday afternoon at the Mayborn Museum at Baylor University, were representatives of Baylor, the City of Waco, and the NPS.

Of those patrons, several offered suggestions about what to make of the site once plans to proceed with its development are approved.

One woman suggested setting up a ferryboat, which would leave from the rear entrance of the Mayborn Museum to travel the Brazos River to the site.

Another man thought it would be wise to take advantage of the Brazos River exhibit at Cameron Park, which also displays information about the history of the mammoth in Waco and using it to draw visitors to the actual site once completed.

Gift shops, volunteer groups to conduct tours, picnic grounds and ways to use the site to create a renewed interest in the sciences were all offered up as ways to maximize the site's attractiveness.

However, before all of that can happen, a resource study needs to be completed and reviewed and funding needs to be in place to support plans for the future of the site.

"What we are going to do with NPS is going to be a long-term process which gives us two challenges," said Larry Groth, Waco City Manager. "We need to focus on site protection and community visitation and viewing, but not at the risk of allowing the bones to deteriorate because they are fragile."

Rain and precipitation run-off were two main factors why the mammoth bones at the site were in such condition despite a tent is in place to provide a temporary shelter for the city's treasure found some 27 years ago.

"Three years ago, we took the advice of paleontologists and understood that our first responsibility was to protect the site because it was so vulnerable," said Ellie Mae Caston, Mayborn Museum representative and professor of Museum studies," so the best move was to close it down to protect it."

Baylor's geology department and their preservation of the site and its remnants encouraged Groth and Caston. They were equally encouraged by Congressman Chet Edwards' legislative efforts to build funding and support for the projejct.

Thus far, research and storage have been Baylor's main initiatives in their involvement with the site.

NPS representatives' roles in the mammoth site were focused around resource protection, visitor usage and access, and the level of facility development.

Currently, NPS is in the second phase of the initiatives set forth to making plans involving the mammoth site a reality.

"Consultation and coordination with interested and affected agencies and holding public scope meetings to guage the interests of the public and understanding the criteria set forth by the NPS to begin this project are where we are in this effort right now," said Michelle D'Arcy, NPS Project Manager.

"Significance, feasibility and suitability are the three criteria we need to define as we move forward in this project."

D'Arcy believed if the site were considered significant, NPS would then move to evaluating management options. She also said if the site were not found to be significant according to NPS guidelines, they would summarize the findings and submit documentation to congress.

D'Arcy said the criteria should be defined by the Spring of 2006.

After that phase of the project, NPS would be working with Baylor and the City of Waco to discuss management options for the mammoth site.

"Its critical we understand management structures," D'Arcy said. "It may be ten years before you see anything visible being constructed on the site, but be encouraged about the role of Chet Edwards and the enthusiasm of the Baylor and Waco communities."