Museum construction moves hikers elsewhere

By By Jaime Winston

By Jaime Winston

Sarah George thinks the current building for the Utah Museum of Natural History is falling apart around her.

The George Thomas Building, which houses the museum, was built during the Great Depression and is beginning to deteriorate, putting its collections in jeopardy, said George, the museum’s executive director.

Museum workers are eager to move into a new building that will be constructed in the foothills above Research Park.

Construction workers will break ground on the new museum next week, but hikers, bikers and joggers are concerned that the building will limit access to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.

The trail, which runs though the construction site, will still be accessible.

Jennifer Still, project manager for the Rio Tinto Center, said the trail will still be open throughout the construction period, but will be rerouted during certain times.

Trail users will have to take an alternate route Monday through Friday between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. for the next two years.

“(The museum’s) job is to educate people about the natural world and trail users are certainly key to that,” she said.

Matt Armstrong, a cyclist who rides the trail about three times per week, disagrees with closing the trail.

“I have friends who ride through there on their way to work, and rerouting will make it longer and less enjoyable,” he said.

The Bonneville Shoreline Trail Committee said they were disappointed to lose the parcel of open space and hopes the U will build within its core instead of expanding outward in the future.

The museum will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for construction July 29, although work on the new building will not begin until August.

George insists that the museum’s move is vital.

Inadequate climate control in the current building can be harmful to exhibits, and space is limited in the anthropology lab with numerous pillars taking up workspace, she said.

“If we had more classrooms or learning space, we would be able to serve a lot of the public schools,” George said. “Right now we turn groups away because we just don’t have the room for them.”

The museum hired consultants 14 years ago to examine how the building could be renovated, but museum officials soon realized that moving would be more practical.

Although museum researchers might be relieved to escape the old complex, the new location has caused concern for hikers and cyclists.

Beth Welch, a junior in communication who hikes the trail at least once per week, said that hikers are going to be pushed to the upper trail when construction begins.

“I think it will definitely be overcrowded and…kind of a hassle,” she said. “I’d probably find a new trail (if it gets really bad).”

The detour route, which includes a 3-foot bike lane, will go around the west end of the construction site along Colorow Drive and then east toward Red Butte Garden.

“But that road is pretty narrow, so it definitely creates a safety issue,” Armstrong said.

Beth Odahlen, coordinator for student services in the College of Health, hikes the trail almost every day after work.

“I think if they do a good job of reconstructing the trail and clean up after themselves, that’s fine,” she said. “I’d rather have the trail open and the museum on both sides than not open at all.”

However, Odahlen thinks that trail users will resort to using an upper trail east of the construction site.

“I don’t think it can be shared by everyone,” she said. “There is already a tension between walkers, runners and bikers, and I think that will probably just increase.”

Trail users will be able to use the museum parking lot for free, which will be built low on the foothill to maintain the trail’s natural aesthetics, Still said. Outdoor terraces will also be available for hikers to use without buying a ticket.

George said the location was chosen because of its proximity to the Hogle Zoo and Red Butte Garden. She said it would also be ideal compared to the museum’s current building.

“This community has grown enormously since we opened in 1969, and we haven’t been able to grow with it,” she said. “We only have 24,000 square feet of exhibit space, and it’s just not big enough for what people ask us to show.”

Museum officials expect the Rio Tinto Center to be completed, along with a refurbished trail, in January 2011.

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Lucas Isley

Hikers on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail will have to take a detour around the construction of the new Utah Museum of Natural History.