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Warren White Warren White works with the Carter County Museum in Ekalaka, Mont. (photo Evelyn Boswell)

Montanans hope dinosaur trail leads to tourist dollars

By Evelyn Boswell

Every summer, Montana State University paleontologists scatter around the state to track down the dinosaurs that once clomped through the nether lands of Montana.

Sometimes the paleontologists make new discoveries. Often times they resume digs from previous years. Either way, the paleontologists spend days and often weeks in the field and visit nearby communities for supplies and entertainment. Sometimes the paleontologists are the entertainment. Many times, the paleontologists and locals work together on projects that benefit the communities as well as MSU.

Dino trail
The purpose of the trail is to draw tourists and build local economies by promoting Montana's reputation as a dinosaur hotbed.

"Jack is giving us the benefit of his knowledge about what we need," said Jim Roen, president of the Rudyard Historical Society. Roen was referring to Jack Horner, curator of paleontology at MSU's Museum of the Rockies, and a project to expand the Depot Museum at Rudyard so it can hold a replica of a duck-billed dinosaur found north of town.

The Montana Dinosaur Trail currently includes these communities and attractions:
Bozeman Museum of the Rockies
Harlowton Upper Musselshell Museum
ChoteauOld Trail Museum
BynumTwo Medicine Dinosaur Center
HavreH. Earl Clack Memorial Museum
MaltaPhillips County Museum
Dinosaur Field Station
Fort PeckFort Peck Dam Visitor Center and Museum
Fort Peck Paleontology, Inc.
and Dinosaur Field Station
JordanGarfield County Museum
GlendiveMakoshika State Park
Makoshika Dinosaur Museum
EkalakaCarter County Museum

"This is our second year with Frankie Jackson and Luis," said Warren White of the Carter County Museum in Ekalaka. "They have given us some good display items and have been very helpful in identifications. In fact, we had a turtle that went back almost to the Jurassic Period. They put it together for us and made displays for us. It (the turtle) had been sitting in a box for 20 years."

Jackson is an MSU paleontologist, and Luis Chiappe is curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. They have been working the past two summers in the Hell Creek Formation near the Montana-South Dakota border.

Several Montana communities have similar stories about their relationships with MSU. Now many of them, along with MSU's Museum of the Rockies, are part of the Montana Dinosaur Trail that so far includes 10 communities. Each has significant or unique dinosaur attractions. The purpose of the trail is to draw tourists and build local economies by promoting Montana's reputation as a dinosaur hotbed.

Dinosaur lovers spent an estimated $1.1 million in Malta over the past 10 years, and he hopes the Montana Dinosaur Trail will increase that, said Nate Murphy, curator of paleontology at the Phillips County Museum and the man who discovered "Elvis." The 32-foot brachylophosaurus, named for its pristine pelvis, was prepared by MSU and returned to Phillips County for display.

Children unearth a bone near Malta. — Tourists dig for dinosaur fossils near Choteau, Mont. — Rudyard Historical Society members (from left) Bob Christenson, Virgil Jurenka and Cliff Ulmen are expanding the Depot Museum to hold a replica of a duck-billed dinosaur found north of the Hi-Line town. (photos: Donnie Sexton/Travel Montana, Annette Trinity-Stevens)

Anne Boothe, executive director of the PhillCo Economic Growth Council and member of the Montana Dinosaur Trail planning committee, said the Museum of the Rockies has been a "wonderful catalyst for all of us, but it's nice that the communities where the dinosaurs are coming from are also reaping some of the benefits."

Tourists, at this point, can't charter a bus and visit all the communities in one trip. They drop by at their own pace and on their own power.

"We don't envision that people can visit all of these in one sitting. Montana is too vast," Boothe said. "Ideally, they could do it over a couple of years."

But, Boothe added, "I think we all truly believe it will make a big difference."

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