Ann LarsonSun special correspondent

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October 26, 2010
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Bones could lead to paleo-tourism

"It's such a great big thing. I'm excited about it," said Villager Chuck Barth about the mammoth bones found in the peat bog below Ziegler Pond.While some are hoping that the bones won't become a mammoth logjam for the Ziegler Reservoir project, others are looking at it as a future woolly cash cow. Then there are the scientists from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, who have their own interests (please see related story, page 2)."For many years in the past, we've had lots of meetings and lots of dialogue on how to diversify our economy to bring more people to the Village, especially during the summer and off-seasons. Now our basket is full, we need to move and do something," Barth said.Following his own advice, Barth has reserved the domain name, although he has no plans for opening another bar.He does, however, have hopes for the development of paleo-tourism here with a small museum.Mayor Bill Boineau agrees. "The problem is that the town doesn't own the bones. Pitkin County is the governing agency, but Water & Sanitation feels it's important to have them in the town. We are pursuing the possibility of having a complete skeleton on view for the public, perhaps at Town Hall," he said.According to Boineau, it is hoped that a whole skeleton can be recovered during the next three weeks, when paleontologists will be working the site. He recommends that those interested in reading about fossils and ancient bones get a copy of "Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway: An Epoch Tale of a Scientist and an Artist on the Utilmate 5,000-Mile Paleo Road Trip" by Kirk Johnson and Ray Troll. These "paleo-nerds" traveled the American West to remote areas, visiting small- town museums and rock quarries.This popular guide has been a favorite of paleo-tourists, for it seems that there are many people out there chasing fossils and remnants of extinct species, not only scientists."I hope one day there will be one of those brown park signs on I-70 pointing to Snowmass Village as home of the mammoth. No kid will let their parents go any further without coming to see the woolly mammoth," said Barth.According to Ian Miller, who heads the Earth Sciences Department of Denver Museum on Nature & Sciences which will be working the Snowmass mammoth site, it is definitely a mammoth.Without seeing the bones, Dr. Larry Agenbroad, director of the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, S.D., says it is probably a Columbian mammoth."A woolly would not be impossible, but I feel it is unlikely. It is at a high elevation, but the Huntington mammoth, Utah, was also at a high elevation, plus9,000 feet if I recall correctly," he wrote in an e-mail.The Mammoth Site is the world's largest mammoth research facility which includes tours of an active paleontological dig site and has excavating bones of Ice Age animals including giant short-faced bear, camel, llama, prairie dog, and wolf. To date they have found bones from 56 Columbian mammoths and three woolly mammoths.The Hot Springs bones were found during excavation for a housing development in 1974, so it has things in common with the Snowmass find. It was pressure from town residents that stopped the development.As more and more bones were discovered over the years, the museum has grown in size and popularity, It has been featured on two Discovery Channel programs and in Smithsonian Magazine."We draw over 102,000 visitors each year, mostly in the summer. We attract anyone from kids to seniors for our popular 30-minute guided tours at the digs and the museum which has three life-size replicas," said Public Relations Officer Patty Blackwell of the Mammoth Site.The non-profit also attracts scientists from all over the world to study not only the mammoth bones, but also the other flora and fauna of the Ice Age and the geology of the area.Whether the Snowmass bones come from a Columbian or woolly mammoth is still not known, but Barth is betting on the woolly one.For commercialization's sake, it has a cuddlier ring.At Sundance Liquor & Gift, owner Barbara Wickes has ordered handmade plush mammoths from a woman in Palisade."I already have some of her handmade toys, including giraffes, frogs, dinosaurs and pigs. She's very talented. Simplicity Patterns has even picked up some of her designs," said Wickes.She has also contacted the Mammoth Site for other contacts regarding mammoth merchandise.Whether the Snowmass mammoth find will go the way of the dinosaurs or be a bridge to a new future for the Village, only time will

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The Aspen Times Updated Oct 27, 2010 11:09AM Published Oct 26, 2010 06:53PM Copyright 2010 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.