President Barack Obama will declare the Waco Mammoth Site a national monument Friday, giving Waco community leaders the prize they have pursued for more than a decade.

Obama is scheduled to sign an executive order under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to incorporate the site into the national parks system, along with two scenic areas in California and Nevada, the White House announced. Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. and other Waco leaders are expected to attend the signing ceremony at the White House.

“It is a day that has been long anticipated,” said Gloria Young, a Waco Mammoth Foundation treasurer who led a $4.2 million fundraising campaign to develop and protect the site. “I am so thrilled that it’s actually taking place. I was beginning to wonder if I would have already joined the mammoths in the ground before this took place.”

The designation means that the National Park Service will manage the five-acre mammoth dig site in partnership with the city and Baylor University. The agency also will provide nationwide marketing for the educational attraction at 6220 Steinbeck Bend Drive, which now is operated by the city of Waco.

Mayor Duncan said the federal involvement will “increase exposure, attendance and awareness at the site.”

“As long as the city was in charge of promoting it with Baylor, we had limited exposure,” he said. “With the arrowhead (sign), we’ll get much more national recognition and should increase tourism and visitation. It should also give us access to a lot of research from other paleontologists.”

Since 1978, the remains of 24 Columbian mammoths have been discovered at the site, dating back some 65,000 years. The remains include the nation’s only known “nursery” herd of mammoths, and more remains are thought to be in the area.

“These unique and well-preserved remains provide superlative opportunities for scientific study, including a rare opportunity to understand the behavior and ecology of the now-extinct Columbian mammoth,” a fact sheet from the White House stated.

National Park Service director Jon Jarvis toured the site this spring and announced his support for a national monument in a meeting with hundreds of local supporters.

City leaders throughout the 2000s worked with congressional delegates to get the national designation through Congress, but fell short. Last year, the city began working for an executive order with the help of the National Parks Conservation Association, which advocates for national parks.

The group’s regional director, Suzanne Dixon, said the facility is a “classic site for inclusion in our national park system.”

“We are grateful that President Obama has stepped forward to protect one of Texas’ unique and valuable natural treasures,” she said in a statement. “The community asked for the designation, and the president answered. . . . Waco Mammoth is a window to a world lost long ago, and with this designation, visitors from across the country will be able to continue learning about the science and history of these amazing creatures.”

The Waco Mammoth Foundation will soon convert to a tax-deductible “friends” group for the national monument and will launch a $1 million campaign to build an educational playground on adjacent land owned by the city.

The city recently deeded the five-acre dig site to the federal government but retained 100 acres around it for future park-related development.

Young said she got a phone call from the White House this week, shortly after returning from knee surgery.

“I started thinking later, ‘Did I just dream that?’ ” she said. “I thought I might have taken one pill too many.”

Young said she was “pleasantly surprised” to find her dream becoming reality.

“We’ve had our hopes lifted and dashed several times,” she said. “I was probably almost a nonbeliever, because we had so many times thought it was going to happen, and then it didn’t. I think the people in our area should be elated for what this will mean for them.”

Timeline: The Waco Mammoth National Monument story

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