Ashfall to open Dickinson Fossil Heritage Center June 16

Ashfall's new Dickinson Fossil Heritage Center.
Ashfall's new Dickinson Fossil Heritage Center.

Children and adults of all ages will have even more to learn and do at Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park when the Dickinson Fossil Heritage Center opens June 16.

The new 1,520-square-foot center features educational exhibits and activity areas, including a fossil dig area and fossil bone puzzles to engage children. It also features exhibits focused on petrified wood and the rivers of Nebraska.

A future exhibit there will pay tribute to the contributions of amateur paleontologists and local ranchers who have donated fossils to the University of Nebraska collections over the years.

The Dickinson Fossil Heritage Center was made possible with gifts in kind to the University of Nebraska Foundation of all building materials and labor from Len Dickinson and his wife Jule Goeller who own Sand Creek Post and Beam based in Wayne. They are both graduates of the UNL College of Business Administration.

The center is named in memory of Dickinson's father, Jack L. Dickinson, who was a Nebraska native and prominent businessman who owned jewelry stores in Wahoo, Ashland and Broken Bow. A World War II veteran, he was active in his church and local civic organizations. He died on Jan. 26, 1996.

"Throughout his life my father was well known for his wisdom, kindness and generosity to his nation, his state, his community and his family," Dickinson said. "We're pleased to honor him with the Dickinson Fossil Heritage Center and hope it deepens the knowledge of children and families from across Nebraska and the country who visit Ashfall."

Priscilla Grew, director of the University of Nebraska State Museum, which operates Ashfall in a joint project with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, expressed the university and state's appreciation for the Dickinson Center.

"The Dickinson Fossil Heritage Center is a significant enhancement to the park," Grew said. "The dig site and exhibits will further enhance the educational experience for all ages, and the building design fits in beautifully with its natural setting. We are very grateful Len, Jule and their company have taken such a personal interest in assisting with projects in the park. Their generosity reflects their love for Nebraska and their desire for visitors to enjoy the wonders of Ashfall for years to come."

In addition to the new Dickinson Center, visitors to the park can also see interpretive displays and the fossil preparation laboratory located in the visitor center. They may also experience the Hubbard Rhino Barn, which opened in 2009 to provide a firsthand look at extinct animals preserved exactly as they died, and all fossil excavations are carried out there in full view.

Designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service, Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park contains skeletons of extinct rhinos, camels, horses and hundreds of other animals lying in the volcanic ash that killed them about 12 million years ago. Since studies began at the park in the 1970s, more than 200 fossil skeletons have been discovered and dozens more preserved skeletons are uncovered in the Hubbard Rhino Barn; more are revealed every summer by student paleontologists.

Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park is located two miles west and six miles north of Royal. It is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Beginning Sept. 4 its fall open hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $5 per person, and children age 2 and younger are admitted free. A valid Nebraska State Park permit is required and may be purchased on-site; day permits are $5 and annual permits are $26. For visitor information and directions visit

— Robb Crouch, NU Foundation

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