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Big Bone Lick State Park

Fundraising under way
to erect museum at northern Ky. park

The facility would house area history, prehistoric bones

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

UNION, Ky. (December 2006) – A salty marsh could hardly be expected to be an ideal spot for a picnic. But such a location was transformed into a beautiful park. Now park officials want to build a museum to house the area’s vast history.
A fundraising campaign has begun to establish a museum at Big Bone Lick State Park in Union, Ky. The town is located in northern Kentucky in Boone County. Such a facility would celebrate the cultural and archaeological significance of the 547-acre park, officials say.

Big Bone Lick

Photo provided

Big Bone Lick State Park is located in
Union, KY, a town in Boone County,
in the northern part of the state.

“A visitor’s center was built several years ago,” said J.T. Miller, Commissioner of Kentucky State Parks. “It was originally designed to be part of a larger structure. This would be another attraction to increase visibility and use of the park.”
Great herds of mastodons, wooly mammoths, ground sloughs, musk ox, stags and moose were once attracted to the warm salt springs still bubbling nearby. They were often trapped and died in what early settlers called “jelly ground.”
Their preserved skeletons left behind clues about what life was like in prehistoric Kentucky.The fossilized remains of the animals were discovered in 1739 by Baron Charles Lemoyne de Longueil and displayed at museums throughout the world. Notable Americans, such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Lewis Meriwether and William Clark, personally examined these fossils, which have now come back home.
A large area is required to permanently display them. “This is the only state park that focuses on paleontology and the prehistoric time period,” said Miller.
While there are a lot of unique aspects to Kentucky state parks, officials would like to focus on expanding the tremendous amount of natural history available at Big Bone Lick.
“We want to incorporate a very strong educational aspect” to this project, said Miller. Currently, artifacts are housed in a one-room, 3,800-square-foot area converted from a former visitors’ center. Nine glass display cases feature smaller fossils and American Indian relics.
Early on, plans called for a 19,000-square-foot addition to the visitor’s center. Parking would accommodate 150 vehicles, in addition to a theatre and classrooms. Most of the park’s acreage has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Various exhibits would interpret not only the paleontology aspects of the prehistoric period of North America but expound on the settlers’ contact with the bones as well, said Miller.
Efforts to preserve the parks natural history have not gone unnoticed. On Oct. 19, the park was honored by the Boone County Conservation District with the “Cooperator of the Year” Award. This award is given as part of a state and nation-wide program sponsored by the Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Kentucky Legislature approved $2.5 million for projects at Big Bone Lick. But existing facilities must be maintained first before building new ones. This doesn’t leave enough money to build a museum, said Miller.
The design of a museum building will dictate the price tag, but Miller believes a new museum will be in excess of $5 million. Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning has been instrumental in securing $600,000 in federal money for the museum’s design, blueprints and mechanics.

Big Bone Lick Bison

Photo provided

Great herds of mastodons, wooly
mammoths and other large animals
once visited the salt springs.

Within four to six months, when the money is in hand, the designing phase can begin, said Patrick Lense, president of Friends of Big Bone Lick. “Then it will be easier to get a large chunk of money to build a museum with.”
Friends of Big Bone Lick are a non-profit, volunteer organization that supports the museum project. Its goal is to make fundraising efforts easier. The current group is what Lense labeled “a hybrid of several other groups.”
The original Friends group banded together in the 1930s. Through various trials, the group hung together in one form or another and raised enough money to purchase land for the park in 1960.
“We were promised in the 1960s a park with 3,000 acres,” said Lense. “We have a little over 500 acres now, and no museum. We’ve been waiting patiently for a long time.”
The group is creating a capital fundraising plan that it hopes to initiate in spring 2007. Their goal is to raise money or sponsorship to create an exhibit to be placed inside the museum. Three additional parcels of land, two contingent to the park, are being considered for purchase as well.
Lense views the group’s role as that of a mediator. They have brought local and state politicians together in an effort to promote the significance of the site that has been labeled by the scientific community as the “Birthplace of American Vertebrate Paleontology.”
Once federal money is in place, design work can begin on the museum. “We want to give people a reason to get off of the interstate,” said Miller.

• For more information on Big Bone Lick, visit: www.parks.ky.gov or call (859) 384-3522. Or visit: www.friendsofbigbone.org.

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