At a glance
• The Dinosaur National Monument Quarry Visitor Center, considered the park's top draw, closed in July 2006, but plans to build a new one are in progress.
• Park officials estimate the park could start construction on a new visitor center in 2011 or 2012.
• Officials said they are excited to be able to promote Dinosaur National Monument's other attractions, including whitewater rafting, Junior Ranger programs and Moffat County's human history.
Craig Melody Villard - Moffat County rancher and mother of four - took her children to Dinosaur National Monument on Saturday to be among the first members of the Junior Paleontologist Program.
Despite the national park's Quarry Visitor Center being closed since July 2006, park officials have not stopped organizing new programs and promoting other attractions.
The Junior Paleontologist program, a new addition to the Junior Ranger Program, is designed to teach children about how scientists find fossils and then re-create whole skeletons from disjointed pieces.
"The kids had a ball," said Villard, who is also a Moffat County Tourism Association board member. "They talked about it the whole way back."
Villard's oldest son, Kelton, 7, is a dinosaur lover. The lure from the park has been calling for a while, Villard said.
"My son loves dinosaurs," she said. "We've been wanting to go down there anyway."
Other residents may have avoided Dinosaur National Monument after the Quarry Visitor Center closed.
The Visitor Center - built into a cliff face with skeletons preserved in the clay scientists found them in - has long been the main attraction, park Superintendent Mary Risser said.
It was condemned, however, because the building's foundation was too unstable, she said.
"The Quarry Visitor Center was created in 1958 to preserve the fossil wall," Risser said. "Unfortunately, it was built on the Morrison Formation."
The Morrison Formation is a band of loose mud and rock running through Dinosaur National Monument. It contains the best areas for finding fossils, but its loose composition does not make a viable building foundation.
The Quarry Visitor Center suffered because of that, Risser said. The foundation moved so drastically that whole parts of the building separated themselves from the foundation.
Maintenance crews tried to fill the cracks with foam, but officials eventually decided that was not safe as a permanent fix.
Risser said the park is exploring options to open the fossil wall as soon as possible.
Current federal budget plans, however, have a new visitor center construction project starting in 2011 or 2012 at an estimated $10 million cost.
"We're moving ahead to do all the planning and drawing now and have that ready if we can get (the date) moved up," Risser said.
The new Visitor Center would be built closer to the shuttle parking lot, down the hill from the current site. The fossil wall will still be open at the same location.
On the positive side, without the Quarry Visitor Center, officials are able to show off the park's other attractions, Risser said, including the new Junior Paleontologist Program.
"We have a lot more opportunities and a lot more Ranger programs," Risser said. "We have some of the most spectacular canyon country you will ever see."
And two of the premier whitewater rivers in the west, she added, referring to the Green and Yampa rivers.
The park also has petroglyphs - which are carved art - and pictographs - ancient rock paintings - that Risser said showcase the long line of Moffat County history.
"The whole human history of Moffat County is really fascinating," Risser said, "and people can see a lot of it here."