Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument Closed until Further Notice Due to Wildfire
Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument in Idaho is home to the largest concentration of Hagerman Horse (Equus simplicidens) fossils in North America: 30 complete horse fossils and portions of 200 individual horses. The area has been closed to the public until further notice after a major wildfire burned over most of the park.
The Long Butte Fire was sparked by a lightning strike 35 miles south of Glenns Ferry on August 21, has burned over 306,000 acres, and is still not contained. Included in that burned area is at least 75 percent of the park's 4,351 acres.
“Safety is our number one priority,” said Superintendent Wendy Janssen. She noted the fire has resulted in "several downed power lines, still smoldering ‘hot spots,’ and damaged trails."
The monument’s paleontology, cultural resources management, and maintenance staffs, assisted by other National Park Service staff from the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise and the Pacific West Regional Offices in Oakland and Seattle, have begun to assess the various safety risks, resource impacts, and damage to infrastructure.
According to a preliminary assessment, the fire spared the Hagerman Horse Quarry, a National Natural Landmark and one of the six most important sites in the world regarding the fossil history of the horse. Other paleontological sites and sections of the Oregon Trail were burned, and until visitor safety and resource protection can be assured, the monument will remain closed.
“We are working to reopen sections of the monument as soon as possible, once we have addressed these concerns, based upon proper risk analyses and sound science,” said Janssen. The monument’s visitor center, with exhibits, an introductory film, information and bookstore, remains open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The visitor center is located in downtown Hagerman, Idaho.
According to a park publication, "Hagerman Fossil Beds is nationally and internationally significant for its world-class paleontological resources. It includes the world’s richest fossil deposits, in quality, quantity, and diversity, from the late Pliocene epoch. Many of its fossils represent the last vestiges of species that existed before the last Ice Age, the Pleistocene, and the earliest ‘modern’ flora and fauna."
"The Monument’s paleontological resources are contained in a continuous, undisturbed stratigraphic record spanning at least 500,000 years. The fossils deposited here appear to represent an entire paleontological ecosystem with a variety of habitats such as wetland, riparian, and grassland savanna."
The park is also one of only four units in the National Park system that contain portions of the Oregon National Historic Trail. Ruts for the trail can be seen at the Oregon Trail Overlook parking lot.
If you'd like to plan a visit once the park reopens to the public, you'll find plenty of information on the park website. Driving time to the area is about 40 minutes from Twin Falls, Idaho, and 90 minutes from Boise, Idaho.