we forget how blessed we are in Montana. Not every state has its own Glacier or Yellowstone. Few states can compete with the abundance of wildlife here or rival our picturesque scenery. Marvelous landscapes and wide-open spaces set us apart from most states in the Union. And it is because of these geographical wonders (in part) that Montana is one of the few states renowned for its fossil finds and dinosaur museums.
“This makes us unique,” says Victor Bjornberg, volunteer coordinator for the Montana Dinosaur Trail—a network of museums across the Treasure State, each with its own permanent (and significant) paleontological exhibits.
Created in 2005, the Montana Dinosaur Trail works to promote the advancement of paleontology as well as the development of local tourism. Most museums on the Trail reside within a community of 2,000 residents or fewer. (Only the Museum of the Rockies is located in a city of more than 10,000.) For this reason, it was in the interest of all these museums to work together to promote Montana as a dinosaur destination.
“I was working for the Montana Office of Tourism,” explains Bjornberg of his role in the Trail’s creation. “Malta came to me with the idea. It’s a town a long way from anywhere. They wanted to see if they could work with other communities to tie their facilities together and create a tourism destination in Montana.”
Currently, fourteen facilities across twelve communities are members of the Montana Dinosaur Trail. Though not a formal organization, all Trail facilities follow a shared set of goals and guidelines—one of which is the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Code of Ethics, which states that scientifically significant fossil finds should remain available to the public for scientific and educational research, access, and enjoyment.
“Commercial fossil hunting is not something we condone or support,” says Bjornberg. “We want these specimen to remain in Montana, ideally in the facility nearest to where the discovery was made.”
The folding and shifting of Montana landscapes over hundreds of millions of years has exposed rock formations from nearly every geologic era, including the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods (when dinosaurs lived). Additionally, these formations are often exposed in dry, rocky areas, leading to fossil discovery “at the surface” without the impediment of vegetation or topsoil cover. Furthermore, Montana’s sparse population has safeguarded these sites from being disturbed or covered by heavy development.
All in all, Montana provides paleontologists exceptional conditions for exploration and discovery!
““When [the Montana Dinosaur Trail] started, I found that each of these museums, and Montana in general, had the ‘first of this species discovered’ or ‘the largest of this species,’” explains Bjornberg. “Our paleo treasures are one of the great reasons to visit Montana.”
Whether you’re a local or from out of state, the Montana Dinosaur Trail presents you with a remarkable opportunity to view real prehistoric fossils and in some cases, excavate them. Three Trail facilities offer field digs. All Trail facilities offer a window into our past.
“I encourage people to see them all,” says Bjornberg.
Purchase a Prehistoric Passport from any Trail partner, and get it stamped at all fourteen Trail facilities (within five years) to be rewarded with an exclusive Montana Dinosaur Trail t-shirt.
For more information, visit mtdinotrail.org.