Guest column: Snowmastodon: The next chapter |

Guest column: Snowmastodon: The next chapter

Tom Cardamone
Guest column

Many readers are familiar with the “Snowmastodon” story, the 2010-11 discovery of remarkable ice-age fossils right next to Snowmass Village. The discovery and fast-paced excavation, racing against the clock, continues to be an ever-emerging story that is already one of superlatives: the largest fossil discovery in the history of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the finest high-elevation ice-age discovery in North America, the world’s most significant mastodon find and a rare, complete 100,000-year record of climate change deciphered from tiny grains of pollen and the remains of salamanders and insects.

Snowmastodon was a million-dollar project that recovered more than 6,000 large fossil bones and 26,000 small to tiny bones. Mammoth, mastodon, bison, camel, horse, giant sloth, deer, mountain sheep and black bear were represented by the large bones, while the small bones came from more than 40 animal species including otter, beaver, cranes, grouse, songbirds, trout and salamanders. Four dozen scientists at 18 institutions in four countries continue to decipher the treasures of Snowmastodon. A significant publication of scientific findings is expected later this summer.

As a major step occurring now, Snowmass Discovery is conducting a feasibility study with Andrew Anway, founder of Amaze Design, a Boston firm that has among its credits the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, the National Museum of Australia and the National Children’s Museum in Washington, D.C. The Snowmass study will filter, focus and fine-tune the thoughtfully generated spectrum of recommendations that aspire to a “grand reinvention of Snowmass as a center for understanding the environment” — through experiential-learning programs supported by a central facility, dispersed educational sites connected by trails, direct engagement with the actual fossils and access to the discovery site.

This next chapter of the Snowmass ice-age fossil-discovery story is quietly incubating at the home office of Snowmass Discovery. The effort is fueled by a gift from Related Colorado of a great office space in Snowmass Village and cash, together valued at $25,000; another anonymous $25,000 challenge grant; a $25,000 grant from the town of Snowmass Village; the full financial participation of the Snowmass Discovery board — Chairman John Rigney, Rhonda Bazil, Jason Haber, Sandy Jackson, Ian Miller and Bob Purvis; and the very important beginnings of community support sparked by Mel Blumenthal’s challenge gift of $12,500 that has inspired yet more generous support. The enthusiastic participation of the Snowmass Village community is breathing new life into the opportunity of the ancient bones.

The feasibility study will bring specificity to the Snowmass Discovery vision: “Treasures of the ancient past teaching us stewardship of the future.” And the mission: “To inspire exploration of Snowmass Village by creating engaging experiences that celebrate the finest alpine ice age discovery in North America.” Ideally that inspired exploration will include the scenic road and trail up Brush Creek, Town Park, Snowmass Center, Base Village, Snowmass Mall, Snowmass ski area and Ziegler Lake.

Once the study is in hand and incubation is complete, it will be time to hatch and grow the best opportunities. Expect the results of the feasibility study later this summer.

Success depends on the genuine interest and engagement of the community. Snowmass Discovery is truly grateful to all who support us. Our collaborative partners strengthen us, as well, with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, Aspen Skiing Co., Colorado Mountain College and Snowmass Village already delivering great programs. Cooperative participation builds community.

Tom Cardamone is executive director of Snowmass Discovery. Contact him at tomcardamone@snowmass or by phone at 970-379-0185. You also can find more information at

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