Ashfall to celebrate 25th year

Ashfall to celebrate 25th year

Visitors to Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park watch as a student paleontologist uncovers a fossil find in the 17,500-square-foot Hubbard Rhino Barn. (NU State Museum)
NU State Museum
Visitors to Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park watch as a student paleontologist uncovers a fossil find in the 17,500-square-foot Hubbard Rhino Barn.

Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park will open for its 25th-anniversary season May 3.

The 360-acre park near Royal is home to skeletons of prehistoric animals, including rhinos, camels, three-toed horses and birds -- preserved in the area where volcanic ash killed them 12 million years ago. The paleontology treasure is a joint project of the University of Nebraska State Museum and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The 2016 season schedule is:

  • May 3-27: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closed Sunday and Monday);

  • May 28 to Sept. 5: Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.;

  • Sept. 6 to Oct. 9: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. (closed Monday).

Visitors have the opportunity to watch as paleontologists uncover new fossils in the 17,500-square-foot Hubbard Rhino Barn. Visitors can also view museum exhibits on the Ashfall animals in the visitor center and talk with researchers as they prepare specimens for study. Interactive exhibits of petrified wood, Nebraska rivers and the contributions of farmers and amateur paleontologists to the Ashfall story are found in the Dickinson Fossil Heritage Center. Visitors can also enjoy the natural setting on nearby nature trails, which were created to help interpret the geology and plant life of the area. Picnic tables are available at the park and campers may use nearby Grove Lake Wildlife Management Area.

First opened to the public in 1991, the fossil bed site has been a destination for visitors and researchers from across the world.

"Ashfall is a national treasure. Where else can you see the past unfold before your eyes as researchers carefully excavate?" said Susan Weller, director of the NU State Museum. "Most active research sites are closed to the public, but not Ashfall. When it was established 25 years ago, the concept of public viewing of research in action was ahead of its time and it remains so."

The first Ashfall fossil – an intact skull and lower jaw of a 12 million-year-old baby rhinoceros, was discovered in 1971. The park was established to preserve this natural wonder in 1991 and share it with the public. Home to more than 200 complete or nearly complete skeletons that have been exposed, the paleontological site gives a glimpse into the subtropical savanna that once existed in the area.

A National Natural Landmark, Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park is two miles west and six miles north of Royal. Admission is $5 per person, with children age 2 and under admitted free. A valid Nebraska State Park Permit is required and may be purchased on-site; day permits are $5 and annual permits are $26. For more visitor information and directions, call 402-893-2000 or click here.

For more information on the University of Nebraska State Museum, click here.