Preserving Ice Age Fossils and So Much More
“This was not the quiet retirement I was expecting!” laughed Sandy Croteau, vice president of Protectors of Tule Springs, an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit that supports Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument. The group has no paid staff; their work is a labor of love. It’s the hard work of their board, volunteers, partners, and community stakeholders, that protect priceless fossils from being bulldozed and covered with buildings.
Building Capacity to Serve
When Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument was officially designated and added to the management of the National Park Service on December 19, 2014, work for the Protectors of Tule Springs had only just begun. The group is looking to grow and build capacity, which is one reason the National Park Foundation granted the group a travel scholarship to attend the Spring 2019 National Park Friends Alliance meeting in Washington D.C.
The meeting brings together approximately 250 local philanthropic organizations from across the country. These groups provide critical support to national parks and programs. Twice a year, the National Park Foundation hosts the meeting so that the National Park Service and the Friends Alliance may work together to augment the collective impact of their work. Park partner leaders share best practices and find creative solutions to the problems they face.
Enhancing Visitor Experience
Since the area had been used as an unofficial dumping ground for years, the group leads much-needed clean-up efforts. The organization also leads interpretative hikes, manages the “I’m a Protector Program,” maps fossils, patrols the perimeter, fixes fences, and fundraises for the park.
As a new park, Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument does not currently have a visitor center and signage is minimal. There are no defined trails for hikers to follow, though many experienced hikers enjoy the solitude of the desert. The Protectors of Tule Springs offer guided hikes to the public throughout the year in collaboration with park rangers.
Partnering with Students
The Protectors of Tule Springs are dedicated to making the fossil beds accessible to all, especially students. They’ve created several campaigns to engage the local students of all ages. In 2018, the organization began partnering with local Girl Scout, Tahoe Mack on her Gold Award project, the Monumental Mammoth.
Inspired by the Columbian Mammoth fossils located in Tule Springs, Mack conceived of a massive, life-sized mammoth sculpture made up of found objects, the trash collected off the fossil beds. After thorough research, professional artists Luis Verla-Rico and Dana Albany were selected to design and build the sculpture, mentoring Tahoe in the process of public art building. Mack, under the mentorship of leader at the Protectors of Tule Springs, applied for and received a Burning Man Global Art Grant of $35,000.
The Monumental Mammoth sculpture will eventually make an appearance at Burning Man 2019. Crafted from discarded desert trash, the monument will then stand at the entrance of Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, a greeting to guests and a reminder that through partnership and collaboration, anything is possible.
#FindYourPark / #EncuentraTuParque at Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument to see the giant sculpture yourself, then stay to enjoy the desert’s solitude and beauty or to learn about the fossils it holds. Without the hard work and dedication of the Protectors of Tule Springs, this park would likely have been developed and its treasures forgotten.
By supporting park partners like the protectors, priceless fossils and gorgeous landscapes are preserved so future generations can enjoy and respect our land’s history for years to come.