Hagerman Fossil Beds’ current visitor center is located in a leased former video store in downtown Hagerman, Idaho. With only a short term lease for the building, it is not practical to install permanently-affixed exhibits nor devote significant funding for major renovations. It is not ADA compliant. The visitor center is 5 miles from the park's lab area and 7 miles from the main unit of the park. In its small rooms, the NPS attempts to provide orientation and interpretation of the park and its resources, offer cooperating association sales items, and provide office space for several employees. Although the current location is attractive on the outside, there is limited parking and little room for outdoor exhibits.
The visitor center contains a few fossils and replica fossils on display. Accompanying them are prominent signs on all of the displays proclaiming that they are not to be touched. Fossils are being evaluated for radon emissions and may be removed from display as leased facilities have additional restrictions regarding radon. Some of the replica fossil casts are old enough to be a historic resource and are in delicate condition (or in less than prime condition). The building itself places limits on the number and weight of fossils/displays that can be presented due to flooring strength and surface area available.
The authorizing legislation for Hagerman Fossil Beds calls for active research and public interpretation of the fossil story, which are the complementary and core operational goals for the park site. Lack of space has led to informational displays over interpretive offerings.
A small cooperating association bookstore is tucked into one corner of the visitor center. Two park specific book titles as well as a display of general fossil information titles are featured. The park needs to work with the park cooperating association to develop more park specific interpretive sales materials on a variety of topics (perhaps in partnership with a new Hagerman Fossil Beds friends group). There is a desire to expand future products available to include items of interest and price to appeal to school children.
Beyond staffing the visitor center information desk (and bookstore sales area), occasional contact tables at special events, and weekend roving of the park grounds, personal service options are staffing dependent.
A ‘drop in’ Saturday program on the visitor center patio uses hands-on elements and is presented for four hours in the summer and fall. Topics are varied but tend to appeal to children more than adults.
The State of Idaho is experiencing difficulty in establishing standards for science education and having them approved. The lack of a directive for schools has led local schools to drop many of their science classes for elementary ages. The park has a regular rotation of Hagerman students, by grade level, attending monthly programs at the park visitor center for science related learning. The science of paleontology is but a small part of this monthly series. This series of programs, as well as general offerings to school groups from outside of the Hagerman School District, are not part of an established curriculum (due to the lack of state standards) and do not build on previous learning (no pre- or post- visit lesson plans, no progression of concepts building on past visits).
The materials for multiple educational trunks are available but seldom requested by schools perhaps due to return shipping costs. Having a complete program, with state standards related lesson plans, could make the materials more attractive to teachers, but without established state standards this cannot be done effectively.
The fossil-bearing strata at Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument are located on very steep, 600-foot high bluffs of loose sands, shales, and clay overlooking the south bank of the Snake River. With the exception of the Rim to River Trail, Hagerman Fossil Beds management has determined that trails through the bluffs would be dangerous, damaging to the resource, and would cause unsustainable erosion and rock fall.
Most visitors view the fossil-bearing strata from a distance using either the Snake River Overlook to the east of the bluffs or the Bell Rapids Dock across the river on the northern shore. While the view from the overlook is lovely and interesting in and of itself—great blue herons and other shore birds soaring above the blue river and the lush green of the pastoral farmlands contrasting against the harsh tan desert sands—neither fossils nor the fossil beds are visible to the naked and untrained eye. The view from park’s shore area is similarly at a distance.
Newly rehabilitated overlooks have accessible decking, attractive waysides, and amphitheater seating, but they lack shade and tactile elements. Even with helpful wayside exhibits nearby at the overlooks, it is not easy to ascertain exactly where the fossil beds are located.
There are two trails within the park grounds and the potential to connect to regional bicycle trails as well. Very little wayfinding, let alone interpretation, is associated with the trails. Maps of the system tend to be informational in nature and small in size.
Park wayside exhibits are clustered around two access points: the Snake River Overlook and the Oregon Trail Overlook. Changeable bulletin boards are installed at both overlooks but are underutilized and tend to collect a few informational postings only.
The park does have an established Facebook page with over 1200 followers. Posting is done irregularly with no pattern or design. The followers are mainly from the U.S. but only 200 from Idaho. The largest concentration by age is in the 35 to 44 years bracket.
There are no other social media platforms being maintained or established.
The visitor center auditorium is equipped with a system that will play video CDs as well as accept other media such as computers for PowerPoint presentations, and other audio sources for theater programs. Two park specific video CDs are shared with the public. One, The Talking Mastodon, is intended for children. The main presentation, Hagerman Fossil Beds: A Snapshot of the Past, provides a 12 minute overview of the park. Both presentations are inaccurate and less than appealing in visuals. They are park-produced efforts and lack accessibility features such as captioning and audio description.
The park brochure (unigrid design folder) is available to all park visitors not only in the visitor center but also at trail heads and overlooks. The brochure was last updated in 2015. The park offers site bulletins to answer many common visitor questions, generally about area attractions and maps. A Junior Ranger book specific to Hagerman Fossil Beds is available as well as a general NPS Paleontology Junior Ranger book. The Hagerman Junior Ranger book was last updated in 2013.
Hagerman Fossil Beds has an established web presence at the NPS website. The information about the fossil resources is dated and from an old newsletter distributed during the early days of the park. Only 20 species of fossil animals are discussed. There are few photographs or drawings of the park fossils. Information about current species of plants and animals is limited and has few illustrations. A three paragraph mention is made of Native American history, and an equally short mention is made of the Oregon Trail. The first discovery of the fossil beds and the Smithsonian Institution work done on the fossils is barely mentioned on that same history page. Visit planning information tends to refer the reader to other local attractions instead of promoting park resources and facilities.
Staffing levels for the park, including those specifically for Interpretation, are very fluid. Multiple directives influence where staffing is concentrated as well as duties performed. The establishment of Minidoka National Historic Site in recent years has involved a sharing of resources. With the separation of parks in FY2017, baseline interpretation staffing and services needs to be established.
A functioning, well established Friends group has not been viable at Hagerman Fossil Beds for years. The joint work between Minidoka and Hagerman has shown, via the Friends of Minidoka, the great value in having an active Friends Group. Tourism-related partnerships are working well, however, and the park has a strong working relationship with Idaho State Parks, Idaho Fish and Game, and the National Fish Hatchery in the area. The City of Hagerman, County of Gooding, and other governing bodies are also engaged with the park and are very supportive. Changes in the Hagerman Historical Society, Hagerman IDEA (Improvement Development Education Appreciation, Inc.), HAVENS Project, and other smaller partners create an ebb and flow cycle of projects and support.
The interpretive staff participates in a number of special events off-site. The park does not currently sponsor recurring special events on park grounds other than speakers presenting programs (National Fossil Day, National Trails Day) in the visitor center, children’s programs (Junior Ranger Day, kids day camp), or a Night Sky Program. Most of the off-site events are not centered on a paleontology theme, although park participation features hands-on learning related to the park fossils or general paleontology methods.
A biennial Bird Festival in Hagerman, Rock & Gem Show in Filer (27 miles from the park), Sagebrush Days in Buhl (19 miles from the park), Shoshone Arts Festival (33 miles from the park), Twin Falls County Fair (27 miles from the park), Live History Days in Jerome (22 miles from the park), and 1000 Springs Art Festival (10 miles from the park) are routinely attended by the park.
Museum Collection and Library
The fossil collection is maintained and accessed through the Resource Management Division of the park. There are storage and display concerns (radon, environmental controls, need for scientific study) that limit the interpretive interaction with the collection. Library materials may be housed in the Resources area or shelved in a small overcrowded backroom of the visitor center. Access to library materials can be blocked due to storage issues. There is no Scope of Collections plan for the library. Replicas and comparative (current-day) skeletons provide good opportunities for interpretation and education hands-on programs. Storage and care of the skeleton replicas is haphazard.