For several years now, the city of Waco has been trying to make the historic mammoth site a national monument. The city council decided last night to seek executive action from President Obama to make this resolution a reality.
The city council voted unanimously last night in favor of the resolution to make the site a national monument under the Antiquities Act of 1906. The act established by Theodore Roosevelt allows the US president to take executive action -- bypassing the House and the Senate – to restrict the use of public land.
This is something Waco’s Parks and Recreations Director Rusty Black says has been a long time coming.
“You know, it’s been quite some time since that process has been initiated," Black said. "To try and get it to be a national monument.”
Black says making the mammoth site a national monument isn’t just important because of funding -- but getting the title would add significance not only to the site but to the city. He says having a national monument in Waco would bring in more tourism and recognition.
The Waco Mammoth Site is a local, scientific gem of sorts. Stumbled upon by two men back in the late 1970s – the site near the Bosque River is home to the nation’s only recorded discovery of fossils belonging to a nursery heard of Columbian mammoths. The fossil remains of twenty-two of these mammoths have been excavated at the site by Baylor staff, students and volunteers since then. Some of those fossils date back over 65,000 years.
The process of making the Mammoth Site a national monument started almost ten years ago -- back in 2006 and 2007. The Department of Interior had conducted a survey that recommended the mammoth site was significant enough to become a national monument. And then Democrat Congressman Chet Edwards proposed legislation to make that happen. Black says after getting passed in the House of Representatives, the bill met opposition from Oklahoma Congressman Tom Coburn. He put the bill on an anonymous hold because of federal spending concerns -- a pattern that would continue until present day.
“We did everything we could to reach senator Coburn," said Gloria Young, the former chairman for the Waco Mammoth Site fundraising committee. She headed efforts to raise money for the site’s current $4.5 million facilities which opened to the public in 2009. This includes a welcome center, paved trails and an enclosed dig shelter and climate controlled museum that protect the original dig site.
Young says the National Parks Conservation Association and then Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson and John Cornyn tried to get more legislation passed to make the site a national monument.
“To explain to him that we had built this," Young said. "There was no cost to take this into the National Park Service because it had a foundation behind it and community support.”
And Young says Congressman Bill Flores has also championed the legislation. But he’s met road blocks too.
“Then Senator Coburn said he would not allow it unless the bill specified that no funding ever could be used by the federal government,” Young said.
Young says that proposal didn’t sit well with the National Parks Service. They needed funding for some operations on the site. So the legislation was abandoned again.
In last night’s meeting -- Council member Toni Herbet asked why the Antiquities Act hadn’t been considered before. Mayor Malcolm Duncan says he thinks timing played a big role.
“There were other parks that got approved through this that then sparked the committees interest in it," Duncan said. "And they felt that the mammoth site was such a priority that it ought to be approved.”
Representatives from the city, Baylor and the Waco Mammoth Foundation Board are slated to meet about the proposal with the National Parks Conservation Association in October. This meeting would also include the head of the National Park Service and secretary of interior.