Example 47 of how, in National Park Service Director Fran Mainella's opinion, the national park system is doing okey-dokey with its insufficient budget: The visitor center at Dinosaur National Monument is slowly, but steadily, falling apart.
If you've ever been to the visitor center, which is located on the Utah side of the monument, you know what a cool place it is. Built against a sandstone hillside that contains an estimated 1,500 fossilized remains, the center has an atrium that brings you face to face with such ancients as the Camarasaurus and the Diplodocus.
But today the center is literally cracking up, the result of being built on unstable soils and the Park Service not having the funds to do adequate repairs.
The problem with the building, which opened in 1957, is that it was built on bentonite, a fairly common soil in the Rocky Mountain West but one that is not the most stable. When it gets wet, the soil swells and bulges and when it dries it contracts and cracks. As you might imagine, anything built atop this soil moves with it. And that's the main problem with the visitor center.
Dan Chure, the monument's chief paleontologist, told reporters the other day that working in the visitor center, which also houses his office, bone preparation rooms, and a gift shop, is like working in a "fun house."
"There's some everyday work that needs to be done to make sure the doors close," says Chure.
According to an Associated Press story, "The atrium is cracking open like a clam shell under relentless ground pressure, leaving a 4-inch gap that workers patched with insulating foam. Overhead, a ceiling beam hangs unsupported at one end, having pulled too far from a corner post to be reattached."
Monument Superintendent Mary Risser, perhaps toeing the company line that the Park Service is doing well despite reports to the contrary, shrugs off the center's structural problems.
"The building has been moving since the day it was built," she says. "Over the last 50 years we've gone in and done some rehabilitation mainly to get rainwater and snowmelt away from it."