Administrative History Update Since 1985 at Agate Fossil Beds NM
The period after 1985 has seen Agate Fossil Beds move from an out-of-the-way, underdeveloped park to an established (figuratively and literally) tourist attraction of the first rank, and happy surprise to most visitors who chance upon it. With the hiring of new superintendent, JoAnn Kyral, at Scotts Bluff in 1988 with the express mission of getting the long awaited permanent Visitor Center at Agate off the ground, the new era began. A Friends of Agate Fossil Beds non-profit, local citizens group (vintage II) was soon organized to help with the fund-raising effort and four years later in 1992 a new Visitor Center and Museum opened to the public with temporary exhibits.
The entrance road was soon paved, a modern picnic area and employee housing were built, and in 1997 top-notch permanent exhibits were unveiled with considerable input from paleontologist Dr. Robert Hunt of the University of Nebraska and members of the Lakota Historical Society from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. At the same time, as if to affirm this more mature period in the park's evolution, the formal "establishment" of the National Monument was finally accomplished with the legal publishing of the approved park boundaries, as originally conceived, in the Federal Register. A nominal entrance fee of $2.00 per person or $5.00 per car began to be charged and park staff were beefed up slightly with permanent positions in all areas of park specialization and a yearly budget of around a half million dollars. At the park's western edge, the Agate Springs Ranch continued to exist as a working ranch still owned by the Cook descendants. Ranch residents Dorothy and Grayson Meade passed on in 1995/96 but other family corporation members still gather annually in June for a family reunion and business meeting.
Local control and partial autonomy from Scotts Bluff National Monument increased in 1996 with the hiring of Agate's first Superintendent, Dr. Ruthann Knudson. The importance of the Fossil Hills quarry area intensified (and was made more complex) in 2002 with the revelation, based on oral history, that the fossil features and associated topography had been of major sacred significance to early Native Americans. Relations with Indian tribes also increased in response to consultation about human remains and other artifacts within the museum collection. About the same time, plans were put forward to improve the natural health of the area through control of exotic species, and/or the reintroduction of fire and grazing animals into the prairie ecosystem. The lack of outdoor, in-situ fossil exhibits also remains a problem for a public expecting to see fossils in their natural setting.
Last Updated: 12-Feb-2003