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Snowmass Village looks to ‘reinvigorate’ Ice Age Discovery

Spread-out interactive experience proposed rather than physical learning center

Paleoartist Mark Gaston of Fruita points out the areas on the mastodon he recently cast for Snowmass Discovery's Ice Age Center in 2017. The town is now looking to "reinvigorate" the concept of an Ice Age learning center and has allocated $50,000 in the 2022 budget to study the prospects, which include an interactive experience spread throughout the town.
Anna Stonehouse/Snowmass Sun archives

It may not be long before Snowmass Villagers and visitors can spot mastodons from local trails and snap selfies with mammoths in their living rooms.

No “Jurassic Park”-style experimentation here, though — just augmented reality technology on smartphones, according to Snowmass Tourism Director Rose Abello.

It’s one component of a proposal to breathe new life into public education about Snowmass Village’s Ice Age history through immersive experiences offered throughout the town and online, rather than at a central location, Abello said during a presentation to the Town Council on April 18.



Other offerings could include online educational content (think slideshows, interviews with scientists, video clips and links to research papers), an in-person speaker series and a scavenger hunt throughout the village. Programming could involve work with local schools.

“The strategy here is really to create content that is educational, engaging, relevant and varied,” Abello said. The town has collaborated with representatives from the Aspen Science Center to develop the idea for what Abello called “Snowmass Discovery 2.0,” a new iteration of the Snowmass Ice Age Discovery Center that previously existed as an interactive learning space on the Snowmass Mall.




The town has budgeted $50,000 this year to focus on a council goal of “reinvigorating” the Ice Age Discovery Center, which served as a hub of information about the area’s Ice Age history.

In 2010, a construction crew unearthed a single female mammoth tusk at Ziegler Reservoir near Divide Road, spurring what would become the discovery of “the richest Ice Age ecosystem found at high altitude,” according to a fact sheet produced by Snowmass Tourism. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science took over at the site and subsequently found thousands of bones from more than 40 unique species.

Council set a goal in 2021 to “study the potential for reinvigorating the concept for building an Ice Age Discovery Learning Center,” which existed in earlier iterations as a brick-and-mortar learning center on the Snowmass Mall. Plans to develop a learning center at The Collective in Base Village by 2021 never quite took shape.

“Our objective here today is really to … leverage and amplify the story of Snowmass Ice Age Discovery, to create a greater understanding of the science that was found there especially the impacts of climate change at high elevations — and I think you all are well aware that of all the papers that were written, that seemed to be the overarching theme,” Abello said. “We think this is an opportunity to create some community pride, and also offer additional amenities for locals and visitors.”

Signs of Snowmass Village’s Ice Age discovery do still exist in the town. The visitor information center in Town Park hosts temporary exhibits and there are interpretive signs located off the Scooper and Dawdler ski trails on the mountain (aptly called the Discovery Trail in the summer months). In the summer, naturalists from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies lead guided tours at Snowmass focused on the discovery.

The proposal for a more spread-out experience is feasible for the town and doesn’t face the staffing and building challenges that would come with a learning center in one designated space.

“I think the biggest pro is (that the town of Snowmass Village) can make this happen. … We have a lot of resources” with the town’s existing materials, websites and teams, Abello said. The town could contract out the augmented reality work and partner with other organizations like the Aspen Science Center to develop the scientific content.

The “con” is that the proposal does not include a physical space dedicated to Ice Age learning, Abello noted, but information kiosks spread throughout the town and on trails could encourage even more outdoor exploration in the area.

David Heil, who currently serves as the volunteer president of the board of the Aspen Science Center, saw a lot of “potential” more spread-out experiences with places to learn all over town rather than in just one place.

“Our expertise is in experiential learning, and your brand is very much an experiential brand here in Snowmass, whether it’s winter or summer, resident or guest,” Heil said. “So our thinking was that if we distribute those experiences, you’re going to spread that benefit out throughout the community.”

The three members of council present at Monday night’s meeting — Mayor Bill Madsen, Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk and Councilman Tom Fridstein — were receptive to the idea.

kwilliams@aspentimes.com


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