The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on May 4, 1997 · Page 83
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 83

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Sunday, May 4, 1997
Page 83
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T»B SALINA JOURNAL. STERNBERG MUSEUM .SUNDAY, MAY,4,, 1997 II THE STERNBERG PERIOD When museum opens, visitors will travel 88 million years back in time to when dinosaurs roamed the Plains By LINDA MOWERY-DENNING The Salina Journal H AYS — The strange-looking dome off Interstate 70 — a building Jerry Choate thinks was probably the ugliest in Kansas at one time — is being transformed into a time machine for more than 150,000 visitors a year. No date has been set for the opening of Fort Hays State University's Sternberg Museum of Natural History, but work continues on the inside of the building. Almost $10 million has been spent and another $1.5 million is needed to finish the project. "This has all been private contributions, and they have been substantial. We have not nickeled and dimed people in Hays," said museum director Jerry Choate as he walked through the new museum building. "This is a whole new ballgame, a whole new venture for the state. It will be the first time an educational institution is involved in a very substantial way in the presentation of tourism." Since the 1920s, the treasures of fossil hunter George Sternberg have been housed in cramped quarters on campus. There was little space to teach visitors about the fossils or to put them in any kind of time perspective. When the dome became available — it was originally built by late oilman Don Pratt as a recreation center and later stood vacant — university president Edward Hammond jumped at the chance to buy the building to showcase the school's impressive collection. "It was a total disaster," Choate said of the dome. "There was still water in the pool. There was so much mold that people with allergies couldn't walk into the place. University crews came in and literally gutted the building of everything but the concrete framework." That was in the early 1990s. Since then, slowly but surely, the new museum, which will offer tens of thousands of more square feet of space, is taking shape. There will be a gift shop, fast-food restaurant and other amenities. The lobby will be atop the old swimming pool, which was filled and capped. "The space here is wonderful, the likes of which we only dreamed about in the past," Choate said. The major attraction — the one museum organizers plan to use to hook travelers as they pass on the interstate — will be at the top of the dome. It will be a re-creation of Kansas and Colorado 88 million years ago, when giant fish and reptiles swam in the sea that covered Kansas and dinosaurs roamed the land that is now Colorado in search of prey. A life-size Tyrannosaurus rex, standing 18 feet, already has been assembled. Much of the scenery also has been done. The Tyrannosaurus will nod to visitors as DAVIS TURNER / The Salina Journal Sternberg Museum director Jerry Choate says the museum is turning out better than they dreamed it would. they round a curve on their way to the beach. The beach will take them to the sea tunnel, where lights and other effects will make it seem as if they're under water. At the end of the tunnel will be exhibits of creatures common to Kansas in pre-historic days. Included is a manmade replica of the museum's famous 14-foot "fish-within-a-fish," a fossil discovered by Sternberg south of Quinter in Gove County. There also will be a mosasaur, a large marine reptile. A mosasaur fossil was discovered this past summer in Gove County, near the original grave of the "fish-within-a-fish." The mosasaur will be displayed at the Fick Fossil Museum in Oakley, also on 1-70, west of Hays. "We're hopeful that this will be as close to an actual re-enactment as anyone has ever done," Choate said. A discovery room will offer fun and education for children. They will be able to dig for plastic fossils and then read about them, learn about insects, rocks and weather, tap into computer programs and participate in other activities. Then there are the fossils. They will be displayed in cases in the dome. "We have 3'A million items. That puts us in the top 20 or 30 museums in the United States as far as size," Choate said. The museum's primary goal will be education. But organizers also are excited about its tourism potential. Choate said a museum in Montana moved from a campus setting to a building along Interstate 90 and immediately went from 20,000 visitors a year to 120,000. Fort Hays expects more people to visit Sternberg because 1-70 has more traffic. Eventually, too, there are plans to construct a building over a rich fossil site near Morland in Graham County, about 40 miles from Hays. That also is a university project. The museum even has its own logo, a flying Pteran- odon in a circle, designed by Hays artist Mary Ridgway. The logo this summer will be painted on the water tower across the street from the dome, making it one of the taller advertisements along the interstate. Choate said all Kansans will benefit from the Fort Hays efforts because more people will stop in the state to spend money. And they will know more about Kansas when they leave. In a preface to "Kansas Geology," a book edited by Rex Buchanan of the Kansas Geological Survey, Buchanan wrote, "In a square foot of Kansas soil, a friend of mine once proclaimed, more history is recorded than in all of the history books in the state's libraries." Choate said the Sternberg Museum will make that history more of a reality for hundreds of thousands of visitors when it opens. Open Weekends IS I i J p II HOMEMADE PPINB8M All-you-cau-eat: Children under 12 *Q *J plus tax $J * 50 plus tax cash & personal check accepted Private party rooms available ii (I \ II tilutil S//IH/M n A S We Have the Perfect Gift for Everyone! •Wood Crafts •Florals •QiUts •DoHs •Kttckei Accessories •Aid Much nore! Crafttr of the month Wanda Hill featuring Filigree Crocheted Family Names, Table Runners & Doilies' 102 E.Iron 8Z5 6515 Come Visit LUCAS Grassroots Art Capitol of Kansas The Garden of Eden and Grassroots Art Center Home of Inez Marshall Limestone Sculpture Collection For information call 913-525-6288 Republic County Historical Society Museum • Railroad Artifacts • Hand Tool Collection • Historical Items From Republic County & North Central Kansas • Restored School • Church • Log Cabin • Caboose • Ag Building Mon.-Fri. 1-5 pm, Sat. & Sun. 1:30-4:30 pm West Hwy. 36 913-527-5971 srsi

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