Despite the dreams they may have of the wild and exotic animals that once roamed the area, student scholars who come for the opportunity to dig fossils at Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park near Royal will now stay safe and dry at night.
Three cabins have been built in the park to serve as a home away from home for those from Nebraska and around the world who come to participate in paleontology research. Each unit features a common living area and kitchen, a bathroom and private bedrooms.
Funding for the $263,000 project was provided by the Theodore F. and Claire M. Hubbard Family Foundation of Omaha with a charitable donation to the University of Nebraska Foundation.
Stephanie Chorkawciw from Illinois who attends Metropolitan State College of Denver is back in Nebraska again this summer to work at Ashfall and said it's exciting to be one of the first to live in the new guest homes.
"As a returning intern, it's wonderful to live on-site this summer," said the biology and geology student. "The new homes definitely make Ashfall feel even more like a summer family for all of us, and we're very happy with them and have all had unique experiences being the first to live here."
The park, a joint project of the University of Nebraska State Museum and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, contains fossilized skeletons of extinct rhinos, camels, horses and hundreds of other animals lying in the volcanic ash that killed them 12 million years ago.
Visiting scholars play an important role at Ashfall by providing needed assistance to paleontologists and in return gain valuable hands-on experience in vertebrate paleontology. The on-site housing improves their access to the fossil sites.
Mark Harris, associate director of the University of Nebraska State Museum, said top scholars contend for the chance to uncover fossils in the new excavation building.
"Now we have comfortable on-site living quarters for them, which will certainly deepen our pool of applicants, he said. "It's an exciting time at Ashfall, and, thanks to the Hubbard family, we are well set for many years to come."
The on-site housing will allow the park to employ people who come from another state or country. Before the homes were built, visitors commuted each day from the surrounding communities such as Orchard, 10 miles away, or Creighton, 16 miles away. The cabins are not open to the public.
The homes are fully occupied this summer while their guests work on various fossil projects. The paleontology scholars have come from as far away as Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Last year the park opened the Hubbard Rhino Barn, also made possible with support from the Hubbard Family Foundation. The building contains the heart of excavation activities and covers 17,500 square feet -- eight times larger than the one it replaced -- and allows for the discovery and protection of many more fossils and enhances the experiences for visitors to the park. Visitors experience a firsthand look at the extinct animals preserved exactly as they died, and all new fossil excavations are carried out in their full view.
To help park visitors better see the live work being done, a video system has been installed to provide a close-up experience of the fossil dig. The closed-circuit TV system was also made possible by funding from the Hubbard Family Foundation.
Claire Hubbard, her husband, Ted Hubbard Sr., who died in 1995, and their daughter, Anne Hubbard, and son, Ted Hubbard Jr., and his wife, Colleen Hubbard, all of Omaha, are generous longtime donors to the University of Nebraska.
Since studies began at Ashfall in the 1970s, more than 200 fossil skeletons from 12 species of Clarendonian Land Mammal Age have been discovered at the site. In 2006, the park was designated a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. government; it was the first site to receive such distinction in more than 18 years.
Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park is located two miles west and six miles north of Royal (map at http://go.unl.edu/joz). 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. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 6 to 18. Children age 5 and younger are admitted free. A valid Nebraska State Park Permit is required and may be purchased on-site. For visitor information call (402) 893-2000 or see http://www.ashfall.unl.edu.
The University of Nebraska Foundation is an independent, nonprofit organization raising private gifts to support the University of Nebraska for 74 years. In 2009, the foundation provided the university with more than $102 million in private funding for scholarships, medical research and support for faculty and academic programs. In October of 2009, the foundation announced the Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities, a $1.2 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign -- the largest in the university's history. For more information, visit http://www.nufoundation.org.
More details at: http://go.unl.edu/z6n