Big Bend’s friends bring new light, di­nosaur ex­hibit to park

Austin American-Statesman - - LIFE & ARTS - PAM Le­BLAnc

If you’ve ever climbed the South Rim or watched the sun set over the Win­dow in the Chisos Moun­tain Basin, you know Big Bend Na­tional Park of­fers some of the sweet­est hik­ing within a day’s drive of Austin.

I met re­cently with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Friends of Big Bend Na­tional Park, a non­profit group that raises money to im­prove and main­tain the park. Such groups are be­com­ing more and more com­mon, as un­der­funded parks team with the pub­lic to pro­tect nat­u­ral re­sources.

Since its for­ma­tion in 1996, the group has raised more than $1 mil­lion for wildlife re­search at the park, as well as habi­tat restora- tion, way­side ex­hibits and an ex­pan­sion of the Pan­ther Junc­tion Vis­i­tors Cen­ter. Most re­cently, it helped fund new in­di­rect light­ing to re­place flood lights in the park.

But with two im­por­tant projects un­der way, more money is needed, say Court­ney Lyons-Gar­cia, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Friends group, and Den­nis Kearns, a board mem­ber.

At about 800,000 acres, Big Bend Na­tional Park ranks as one of the largest na­tional parks in the coun­try. It’s re­mote. And it can be dan­ger­ous, if you head into the back coun­try un­pre­pared.

That’s why the Friends’ biggest pri­or­ity is to fin­ish a short ori­en­ta­tion film to give vis­i­tors a park over­view and tell them how to stay safe dur­ing their visit.

They’ve raised $101,000 for the project, but need at least $40,000 more be­fore film­ing can be­gin. They hope to fin­ish by late 2011.

Also in the works: a new pa­leo ex­hibit at the park, the site of sev­eral im­por­tant di­nosaur bone finds, in­clud­ing the skele­ton of a mas­sive, plant-eat­ing Alam­osaurus that might have weighed more than 50 tons.

“It’s an im­por­tant part of the story of Big Bend, and we’re not telling it,” Lyons-Gar­cia says.

Run­ners should note that the group has re­vived its pop­u­lar long-dis­tance trail run, a fundraiser. The Big Bend Ul­tra Run ’11 is sched­uled for Jan. 16, 2011. En­try fee is $100 by Dec. 15 or $125 af­ter that, if space is avail­able. To reg­is­ter, go to www.big­bend50.com.

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