Whenever I head out of town and into the backcountry, which I did last week for a paddling trip in Yellowstone, I wonder just a tad what I might miss while I'm gone. And in the case of this past week, it seems like quite a bit.
One relatively big story is the news that the visitors center at Dinosaur National Monument has been shut down indefinitely because engineers say it could collapse at any moment. Seems there's a problem with the stability of the ground on which it stands.
Interestingly, officials have known since at least 1993 that the soils beneath the visitors center are not the most stable, and since 2003 that there are serious problems with the structure.
Back in May I posted about the deteriorating condition of the facility. In that item, I noted that the monument's superintendent, Mary Risser, was of the opinion that concerns over the structure's stability were overblown.
Now, though, she's saying that, "Over the years, the soils have expanded and contracted. That has played havoc with the structural integrity."
Gee, I wonder what revelation she's had in the past two months to prompt her to change her tune? I mean, back in 2003 a report pointed out substantial structural problems at the monument. You can read it yourself here. Some of the report's highlights: floors in the center have shifted as much as 8 inches, windows, under pressure from the shifting, broke "spontaneously," and the viewing gallery dropped as much as a foot.
A more recent study, which was undertaken beginning in May, about the time Superintendent Risser was saying the center was doing fine, casts a more dire shadow over the building's stability. As Ms. Risser told reporters the other day, the latest report says the visitors center is "a very serious life-safety hazard. ... We have strong concerns that the whole thing could collapse."
Now, when you consider this news, keep in mind that Fran Mainella, the NPS director, has told Congress quite recently that her agency is getting by just dandy on its funding. You also should know that the visitor center was slated for some serious reconstruction in 2004 ... but that budget cuts from on high forced postponement of that work until -- are you ready? -- 2010.
Now the center is closed for who knows how long.