September 25, 2003

Museum of the Earth to Open

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Everyone knows that Ithaca is gorges, but they might not know why.

The Museum of the Earth, which will open to the public this Saturday after years of planning and construction, endeavors to focus on the area’s local geological and natural history and to place it in the context of the evolution of the planet.

In 1992, Prof. Warren D. Allmon, then the new director of the Paleontological Research Institution, decided that the private academic center should share its resources with the local community. From that thought, the museum became a reality.

“A large part of why this project was begun was to share our collection with the general public,” said Samantha Castillo-Davis ’00, community relations liaison for the museum.

The museum will feature over 650 world-class specimens which were selected from the more than three million objects that are held by PRI.

As such, the museum will provide a center for earth science education, serving a region that houses nearly two million people, including half a million students. The museum, housed in a brand-new building, consists of an exhibition and education center, which will showcase artifacts from the seventh-largest fossil collection in the nation.

Maintaining a regional focus, the museum will feature the well-preserved 14,000-year-old bones of a mastodon that was excavated in Hyde Park, N.Y. It will also display some of the few fossilized dinosaur footprints that have been found in New York State and the 44-foot skeleton of a northern Atlantic right whale from the coast of northern New Jersey. A 500-foot historically accurate mural created by local artist Barbara Page will also depict the last half billion years in the history of life.

The museum was designed around the novel earth systems science approach, which focuses on the way the various systems of the earth, such as life, geology and climate, interact with each other.

Castillo-Davis hopes that the uniqueness of the museum, along with its high-quality exhibits, will help attract around 50,000 people annually from both the local area and the rest of the country.

“It’s a major natural history museum,” she explained. “What we are offering here in 18,000 square feet is the museum experience that you would find in a major metropolitan area.”

The new facility will be the seventh museum in Ithaca’s Discovery Trail program, which links points of interest throughout Ithaca, providing a cohesive array of activities for locals and visitors.

“[Ithaca] really [is] becoming a focal point for tourism, which also aids in economic development,” Castillo-Davis said.

Furthermore, the extensive exhibition space, combined with the interactive nature of many of the exhibits, will provide an incentive for people to return to the museum.

Warren Allmon, director of PRI, said that it’s “more than you can see in one visit.”

Furthermore, the center’s directors hope that constantly changing exhibitions, additional museum space opening Nov. 15, new educational programs, active research and new publications will motivate the public to visit the museum frequently.

The museum is expected to make the study of natural history in Ithaca more accessible and tangible for students of all ages.

“Now you actually get to hang out in a museum where all of this is at your fingertips, and you can really learn a lot more than you can by just looking at a book,” Castillo-Davis said.

The museum will also act as a resource for Cornellians who are interested in paleontology, natural history and evolution. Cornell students may also volunteer or apply for internships at PRI.

The Museum of the Earth and PRI are located at 1259 Trumansburg Road in Ithaca.

Archived article by Andrew Beckwith