The marketing campaign for Snowmass Village appears to be going prehistoric.
The amazing mix of prehistoric bones that has been emerging almost daily
since mid-October in a 15-acre glacial lake just outside the town
boundaries of Snowmass Village represents a marketing opportunity for
“I think we all have to appreciate that this will have an economic
impact on Snowmass Village and on the museum,” said George Sparks, the
president and CEO of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS). “I
think that Snowmass Village and the museum recognize that our entities
are changed forever. We will never be the same again. And our job now is
to take advantage of that and manage it, and manage it well moving
What the economic impact of the “Snowmasstodon” site will be remains to
be seen, but Snowmass town officials plan to meet with executives from
DMNS in January in Denver to develop a marketing plan for the resort
around the discovery of mammoth, mastodon, ground sloth, Ice Age bison,
deer and mouse bones in Ziegler Reservoir.
“We’re working hard to identify our summer differentiator, and I think
it just found us,” Hamley said. “Obviously as marketers, we’re totally
But Sparks has counseled town officials that it will take time to develop a solid marketing plan.
“You have an opportunity to build something here that is really
lasting,” said Sparks. “This is only step one of a journey that is going
to take a long, long time.”
In the meantime, there is no shortage of suggestions coming into the
town on how to market the traces of the Ice Age discovered in Snowmass,
and Internet domain names such as “Snowmasstodon.com” and
“Snowmasstodontees.com” have been registered recently to sell T-shirts.
“I can’t tell you how many people have called or e-mailed, and they have
all kinds of ideas, which is great, but we have to do this thing right,
because we only have one chance to do it right,” Hamley said.
But what will “it” be?
“Ideally, there would be a facility of some type, with casts of the
different animals,” Hamley said. “And from a marketing standpoint, we
would create lodging packages for people to come up here and enjoy it.
It can be a draw.”
Hamley has learned that a smaller fossil discovery in another small Colorado town is attracting 10,000 people a year.
“And this is the biggest one in Colorado by far, and they are not done yet,” Hamley said.
She also said there is a growing buzz about the bones on social networking sites.
“People are really getting into it,” Hamley said. “They are talking
about Snowmass. That’s awareness. And that’s something we really need.”
Longer term, visits by groups of scientists also are a possibility,
Hamley said. And at an upcoming gathering of meeting planners in Denver,
Snowmass representatives will be armed with “I dig Snowmass” stickers
and other items to call attention to the site.
And Snowmass certainly has something to claim, as the superlatives
regarding the Ziegler Reservoir site are growing longer by the day. It’s
a rare high-altitude site; it’s by far the most evidence of mastodons
ever found in Colorado; it’s a very rich and diverse site in terms of
the number of species; there are two distinct time periods emerging in
the different layers, and both the prehistoric fauna and flora that are
being found are very well preserved.
Kirk Johnson, the museum’s vice president of research and collections,
remains blown away by the recent find of a gigantic Ice Age bison skull
with a horn-span of some seven feet.
“That thing, you have to see it to believe,” Johnson said. “It is a
massive beast. I think that animal is going to be iconic for Snowmass.
It is a really gorgeous specimen and the image of it is something that
is going to be associated with this place forever.”
And Johnson wants the community to share what it has found with visitors.
“If 10 years come and go you can visit Snowmass and there is nothing
here in the town of Snowmass that ever lets you know that this was a
find, I think that would be sad thing,” Johnson said. “I think there is
an opportunity for both the village and the valley to capture the fact
that there was a world-class site here.”
At a recent press conference, museum officials were asked if the
Snowmass Water and Sanitation District, the museum and the state were
all on the same page regarding how the bones are being handled, and
whether the district gave something away it didn’t own.
The first mammoth bones were found by Gould Construction workers while
excavating the reservoir on Oct. 14 on property owned by the water and
sanitation district. After the bones were found, the water and
sanitation district initially believed that since the bones were on its
property, it owned the bones.
But realizing the scope of the find, and the impracticalities of
preserving and exhibiting the huge bones, the district contacted DMNS
and worked out an agreement for the museum to manage the preservation of
the bones as long as the museum helped Snowmass Village, in some
capacity, with an exhibit in the future.
Since then, it has become clear that because the district is technically
a political subdivision of the state, the bones found in Ziegler
Reservoir are, and always were, under the state’s jurisdiction. However,
given that the DMNS is a state-approved repository for fossils such as
the bones in Ziegler Reservoir, the state archeologist is happy with the
“The Snowmass district’s arrangements with the Denver museum are
appropriate, and follow from our office’s function to administer and
maintain a list of ‘state-approved museums,’ [and] the Denver museum is
on that list for both paleontology and archaeology,” said Kevin Black,
the assistant state archeologist for Colorado, in an e-mail response to
questions. “Although the reporting of the initial discovery followed a
path that was less than perfect, we deal with many other cases with far
less desirable outcomes, so we have nothing to complain about with the
‘Snowmasstodon’ site continues to produce
As about three inches of snow fell on the Ziegler Reservoir site
Tuesday, museum staff and volunteers, along with crews from Gould
Construction, found the back end of a large bison, bringing up to three
the number of Ice Age bison that have been found.
“This one is the hind legs, and it is going into the ground, so we don’t
know how much we are going to get, but it looks pretty good,” said Kirk
Johnson, vice president of research and collections at the Denver
Museum of Nature and Science, which is overseeing the Ice Age dig.
And more signs of mastodons were turned up on Tuesday.
“We spent the whole afternoon jacketing this immense mastodon tusk,”
Johnson said. “And as we were digging a drainage trench, we found a
tibia and a bunch of its foot and ankle bones and an amazingly big
Johnson said that find put the number of mastodons now found on the site
at close to 10. With bones from that many mastodons, it blows away all
the other finds in Colorado to date.
“Before this site, there were only three other specimens known,” Johnson
said. “And now we have parts of probably 10 mastodons. So we’ve tripled
the Colorado record in one week.”
Since museum crews got here last Tuesday, they’ve been finding about two to three animals a day.
“We have about 25 discreet sites that have produced bones or partial
skeletons,” Johnson said. “The site is incredibly rich. Literally, you
pretty much put your bulldozer blade in and push around for awhile, and
out pops a tusk. There will be books written about this place, and three
weeks ago no one even knew it was a fossil site.”
Johnson also said there is a pattern emerging of the bones found in the naturally deep end of the reservoir.
“What it looks like is we’re seeing parts of animals that are tumbling
down a steep underwater gravel slope,” Johnson said. “Imagine a lake
that has a steep slope going underwater, animals die on the edge on the
lake, they get scavenged, their bones lie on the shore and then they
tumble into the water and tumble down that slope. And that is what it
looks like we’re finding.”
Johnson said crews will work as long as they can stand the cold, and if
the weather cooperates, museum crews might stay working outside in the
field until maybe Thanksgiving.
The museum’s agreement with the Snowmass Village Water and Sanitation
District runs through Dec. 31. Johnson also said it is likely museum
crews would return in the spring to do more scientific tests after a
winter of analyzing what they’ve found so far.