“…..the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments, and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
This is something of an administrative Charybdis and Scylla. It is no secret that the NPS worries about “losing relevance” to most Americans in the 21st century and is making great efforts to attract visitors to its nearly 400 units. At the same time, there is the oft repeated NPS lament that visitor impacts are so great that parks are being “loved to death.” So balancing resource protection and visitor enjoyment can, at times, be quite difficult and challenging.
In the previous post I looked at the travails of early visitors trying to get to the Monument. Now let’s look at that visitation from the perspective of impacts.
As visitation to Dinosaur increased so did visitor impacts. There were problems with both local and more distant visitors carrying away “specimens of bone, fish scales, and gastriliths (sic).” (1) As no fish fossils of any kind are known from the Carnegie Quarry these fish scales were being stolen from elsewhere in the Monument from exposures of the mid-Cretaceous marine Mowry Formation where isolated fish scales are abundant. In another incident, a local Jensen Boy Scout leader amassed a substantial collection of fossils from the Monument. This was a concern for park management and through negotiations he ultimately turned the collection back to Dinosaur. (1)
In 1934, NPS representative David Madsen wrote
“In the past tourists and even our own people visiting the quarry have destroyed exposed fossils by chipping off what they considered a souvenir. With thousands of visitors coming as anticipated, danger of destruction by vandals will become still greater.” (1)
This is an particularly interesting observation, because the phrase “even our own people” implicates NPS and other government officials visiting Dinosaur in the illegal taking of dinosaur bone trophies!
That souvenir taking was a serious problem early in the Quarry’s history is evidenced by this old photo.
Although the focus is on the man excavating fossils and the field jackets and crates around him, in the background one can barely make out a sign against the cliff. Although difficult to read, when enlarged its message becomes clear “PLEASE DO NOT MOLEST BONES.”
The problem of fossil theft became so severe that David Madsen recommended that site Supervisor A.C. Boyle post signs prohibiting the taking of any natural specimens and that he should “refrain from taking parties to places where they will be able to remove specimens without being detected.” (1) The latter is significant because Boyle, as recounted in the my last and previous posts, was energetic and enthusiastic, in showing visitors the fossils and explaining the work underway at the Quarry.
Given that there was no NPS staff at the Monument, all responsibilities for interpreting the site fell to Boyle and his staff. This impacted the primary work of excavation to the point that David Madsen wrote in 1934 “…it would be impossible for [Dr. Boyle] and the workmen to do much work if their time was taken up explaining details of the work being done and acting as guides and police.” (1: 118) In that same year NPS representative H. Langley recommended to Boyle that “tourist traffic be discouraged at this time as it would prevent the workmen from doing their work properly.” (1)
Old trophies still occasionally pop up. In the late 1980s the Monument received an anonymously mailed package with a small piece of dinosaur bone and a note stating that the souvenir had been taken by the writer’s grandfather during a visit to the Monument in the 1930s. Now in his later years the grandfather had been feeling sorry for taking it and was sending it back with an apology.
Nor is this a problem unique to Dinosaur. Years ago, I saw an exhibit case at Petrified Forest National Park that contained small pieces of fossil wood that had been stolen and then returned with a number of letters of apology. The letter I remembered best was from a self-described “good Christian man” who recounted that he had found the pilfered petrified wood in his wife’s bra. I read the letter carefully for clues as to the circumstances under which this discovery was made, but no details were forthcoming. One is simply left to wonder and speculate.
Nor is it a problem unique to fossils. Haleakala National Park in Hawaii is well known for people mailing back souvenir pieces of lava illegally taken from the park. Some lament their bad fortune after stealing the lava --- jobs lost, illness, even death of loved ones. I feel sorry for someone who feels responsible for their child’s illness because they stole a small piece of lava. Then again, if their child hadn’t become sick they would probably have kept the lava in a kitchen drawer until someday someone asked “What is this piece of junk?” and then chucked it into a garbage can. The garbage dump is the final resting place for many such “priceless souvenirs”, be they rocks or fossils.
(1) Beidelman, R.G. 1956. Administrative History, Dinosaur National Monument. Unpaginated. (available on line at: http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/dino2/adhi.pdf