With a stroke of President Barack Obama’s pen Friday afternoon, the Waco Mammoth Site became the Waco Mammoth National Monument.
Immediately after the signing, the new National Park Service “arrowhead” signs went up at the paleontological site at 6220 Steinbeck Bend Drive. New brochures were released along with a Web page: www.nps.gov/waco.
Now, after media attention across the country, staff at the educational attraction are bracing for a weekend surge in attendance.
“Tomorrow’s probably going to be huge because of all the media we’ve done,” site manager Raegan King said. “Many people comment that they never knew this site existed — people from Waco or Dallas.”
Obama signed an executive order under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to incorporate the mammoth site into the national park system along with two other sites. The others were Berryessa Snow Mountain in California and Basin and Range in Nevada, home of ancient rock art.
After the event, Obama met with Waco representatives, including Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr., Ellie Caston of the Mayborn Museum, Gayle Lacy of the Waco Mammoth Foundation and Tommye Lou Davis of Baylor University.
“Tommye Lou made sure to request a pen for the Mayborn,” Duncan said. “It was pretty special. He said it was so rewarding to see a group take this long to be able to come together for an effort like this. He knew all about the (mammoth) herd and how old they were.”
About 24 mammoth skeletons dating back about 65,000 years have been discovered at the site since 1977, along with a camel, a saber-toothed cat and other prehistoric mammals.
The group also met with Rep. Bill Flores, R-College Station, at the White House, Duncan said. He said informal support from Flores and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was “critical” for the designation.
“If they had opposed it, it would have been very difficult if not impossible,” Duncan said.
Cornyn on Friday said the designation would “enhance the public’s awareness of this unique treasure and ensure its preservation for generations to come.”
Flores’ predecessor, Congressman Chet Edwards, D-Waco, worked with Texas senators several times to get Congress to declare the mammoth site a national monument. Flores filed legislation in 2011 for such a designation, though without federal funding. But none of the Congressional efforts succeeded, and the city decided to seek an executive order instead.
Now that the order has been signed, the city of Waco will work with the National Park Service, Baylor and the Waco Mammoth Foundation to form a partnership controlling the monument.
The federal government will pay for a park ranger, who will begin in October, and will provide signs and research money. The city will continue to pay to maintain the park and retain the current staff.
The city of Waco has deeded the five-acre dig site to the federal government but held onto more than 100 acres surrounding it that can be developed with educational attractions, nature trails and possibly a dock on the Bosque River.
The Waco Mammoth Foundation will become a support arm of the national monument and will soon kick off a campaign to build an educational playground at the site.
Duncan said he has learned that getting an official sign on Interstate 35 pointing people to the mammoth site will require legislative support. He said he plans to contact state Rep. Kyle Kacal and ask him to request a sign from the Texas Department of Transportation.