$3 million deal will keep rare mummified dinosaur on display at N.D museum
BISMARCK - The owner of a mummified dinosaur uncovered in North Dakota has reached a deal with the State Historical Society that will keep the rare fossil on display at the state's newly expanded Heritage Center in exchange for a $3 million grant.
BISMARCK – The owner of a mummified dinosaur uncovered in North Dakota has reached a deal with the State Historical Society that will keep the rare fossil on display at the state’s newly expanded Heritage Center in exchange for a $3 million grant.
Historical Society Director Merl Paaverud called the agreement with the Marmarth Research Foundation the “opportunity of a lifetime.”
“They have been offered other places that wanted it, so we feel honored that they would consider keeping it here,” he said of the fossil, nicknamed Dakota.
Tyler Lyson was a teenager when he discovered the duck-billed hadrosaur fossil in 1999 on his uncle’s ranch near Marmarth in far southwestern North Dakota.
State Paleontologist John Hoganson has described the nearly complete fossil as “very rare” because its skin was mineralized and preserved, unlike other fossils found with skin impressions merely left in the surrounding rock.
Excavation was completed in 2006, and a wave of publicity followed, including a National Geographic documentary and a “Good Morning America” segment about the 65-million-year-old fossil.
The Heritage Center’s paleontology lab prepared the fossil in exchange for the museum being allowed to keep it until July 1, 2015.
The new agreement, reached about a month ago, gives the State Historical Society Foundation four years to raise the $3 million, according to Paaverud, who in April voiced frustration that the state hadn’t received a response to its offer from the Marmarth foundation.
Marlo Sveen, the State Historical Society Foundation’s director of development, said none of the $3 million has been raised so far.
“There’s certainly been some interest,” he said.
As part of the deal, the Marmarth Research Foundation will share some of its fossils for display in the Heritage Center and also will be allowed to use the center’s research labs and storage area, Paaverud said.
Paaverud said the $3 million is a one-time grant to the Marmarth Research Foundation, and he doesn’t anticipate the state having to spend additional dollars to keep the fossil at the Heritage Center.
“Hopefully we’ll just be in partnership with them forever,” he said.
Lyson, the president and director of the Marmarth Research Foundation, said in April that the not-for-profit organization was working to establish an endowment fund to be used to further the field of vertebrate paleontology, fund public digs, build up research collections and train students.
Meanwhile, state officials said the $51.7 million expansion and remodeling of the Heritage Center is nearly complete, and its last two galleries will be ready for their Nov. 2 grand opening in conjunction with the125th anniversary of statehood.
Expansion Coordinator Claudia Berg, who will take over for Paaverud as director when he retires Nov. 14, said there are just a few artifacts and graphics left to mount in the Inspiration Gallery and Governors Gallery, as well as some minor sodding on the building’s exterior.
“It’s pretty well done now,” she said.
John Boyle, the state’s facility management director, said the project will be “right on budget.”
The 2009 Legislature authorized $51.7 million in spending, with $39.7 million appropriated from state funds and $12 million to come from federal and private sources. The State Historical Society Foundation has surpassed that mark, raising more than $13 million so far, and hopes to raise at least $16 million to chip away at a list of add-ons, Sveen said.
Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at email@example.com .