National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis on Monday afternoon declared the Waco Mammoth Site “a fantastic park” that he will recommend to be part of the national park system.
Visiting Waco for a mammoth site tour and a public meeting, he said he soon will ask the Interior Department to seek President Barack Obama’s approval this year to make the site a national monument.
After an hourlong tour of the site, Jarvis said he had no question that the Waco Mammoth Site was worthy of the national park system. Only one question remained, he said.
“Is there community support?” he said. “Are they happy with what they’ve got? Or would they like the National Park Service to be one more partner?”
He got his answer at a public meeting Monday evening at the Mayborn Museum that drew 250 people in support of the designation.
“We’re crazy about the idea,” said Baylor University President and Chancellor Ken Starr, echoing the general enthusiasm of the audience. “We are all-in for the Waco Mammoth Site.”
The standing-room-only crowd included everyone from college students, scientists, teachers, parents, local politicians past and present, and Paul Barron, who co-discovered the site as a teenager in 1978.
He said that when he found the first bones, he took them to Baylor’s natural history museum, because, “I thought, ‘The world has to see this,’ ” he told the crowd. “I had no idea this would happen. . . . The whole journey could be completed if this could be part of the National Park Service registry, so that long after I’m a footnote of history, kids would be able to see this site.”
Jarvis told the crowd that the Waco Mammoth Site would be the only mammoth site in the parks system.
He said it would “offer a unique educational opportunity” because it tells the story of how Columbian mammoths behaved when threatened with danger, in this case a mudslide that buried them alive.
Jarvis said another selling point is the long-standing partnership among the city of Waco, Baylor University and the Waco Mammoth Foundation, which worked together to create a $4 million educational tourism attraction.
“The infrastructure looks like the National Park Service designed it,” Jarvis said. “When you drive in, the only thing missing is the arrowhead.”
Local and federal officials are in discussions about transferring the 5-acre dig site to the National Park Service.
That would leave 100 acres of city-owned land that could be developed with amenities that complement the national monument. The Waco Mammoth Foundation would continue to raise funds for developing the master plan for the site, which includes an “educational playscape,” trails and a new visitors’ center.
Jarvis said he would like to also see more excavations so visitors could see hands-on demonstrations of how paleontologists work.
Baylor University scientists have identified at least 24 mammoths at the site, dating back as much as 65,000 years ago, but site officials said there still could be more underground.
City officials have worked with legislators for more than a decade to try to get congressional approval for a federal designation, and a 2007 National Park Service report to Congress found that it met all criteria to be in the system.
But in recent months, local leaders have pursued an alternate strategy: asking Obama for a designation under the Antiquities Act of 1906.
Representatives of the city of Waco, the Waco Mammoth Foundation board, Baylor and the National Parks Conservation Association in October made the case to administration officials in Washington, D.C., for a mammoth site national monument.
Sixteen of 19 presidents since 1906 have created national monuments under the act, and Obama has used the power 16 times.