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By Alex Ross 

Hi-Line Living: 36 years of bones, digging and history

Reddings earn international paleontology award

 

December 9, 2016

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

For 36 years, the "yard" of Dan and Lila Redding has been a campsite and classroom for young paleontologists.

"Our backyard is literally covered with dinosaur bones," Redding said.

The 25,00 acres of badlands owned by the Reddings of Rudyard has served as a field station where aspiring paleontologists go to dig for the remains of dinosaurs.

The Reddings were recognized for their continued work with those in the paleontology community this October, when they were presented with the Morris Skinner Award at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology's 76th annual meeting in Salt Lake City, an international conference of paleontology.

The society's website says the award, named after the late paleontologist Morris Skinner, is given to those who continually work to maintain collections of vertebrate fossils and further paleontology through education.

Dan Redding said receiving the award has been an honor for him and his wife.

"We really didn't know we we're doing all of that," Redding said. "We were just making our backyard available as an outdoor classroom."   

They were nominated for the award by several people including Jack Horner, a world-renowned paleontologist who served as a consultant on the Jurassic Park movie series who recently retired from his position of curator of paleontology at Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman. Others who nominated them included friends and former students whom the Reddings have hosted.      

Some of the people at the conference in Salt Lake City were former guests of the Reddings' who have since earned their master's and doctoral degrees.

Redding said that the real reward was seeing how far those friends and former guests have come in the years since they were scouring the Reddings' property for fragments of dinosaur bones.

The Reddings' involvement with paleontology began in 1980, when they promised Bob Makela, a science teacher at what was then Rudyard High School and an amatuer palentologist, that they would protect the paleontology value of the land on which Dan Redding farms.

Makela brought Horner and several other then-budding paleontologists to the Reddings' property.

"They knew there were badlands, they were just looking for bones. They didn't know what they would find," Redding said.

"Our whole goal is to protect the dinosaur bones that we have so that they are on display for the public and not hidden in somebody's basement," Redding said.

"Our whole goal is to protect the dinosaur bones that we have so that they are on display for the public and not hidden in somebody's basement," Redding said.

In 1980, University of California Berkeley received a grant from National Geographic to study microsites, areas composed of the remains such as the microscopic teeth and remains of rodents and other species.

"So they studied that, but they kept tripping over great big dinosaur bones,"  Dan Redding said.

Since the 1980s, Reddings have worked closely with UC Berkeley, Princeton and other universities and for 10 years served as the field site for MSU students studying paleontology.

The first bones were sent to UC Berkley, long before the Museum of the Rockies had the space and a repository, Redding said.

From May to August each year, students come to the Redding property to prospect for bones and  gain real hands- on experience while pursuing their masters and doctoral degrees.

Redding estimated that about half of students they hosted now have a doctoral degree in paleontology.

Students and others who do field work on the property have found fragments of bone and limbs from primarily duck-billed dinosaurs.

A gryposaurus fossil found on the property is the first articulated dinosaur - where the bones are preserved still connected together - found in the region.

Redding said the only components missing are the toes and the head.

About five years ago, some 800 bones were found from which paleontologists identified 10 dinosaurs.

The Reddings have done more than allow students access to the land, though, they have also put Rudyard on the map, making the Rudyard Depot Museum one of 14 stops on the Montana Dinosaur Trail, a string of museums promoted by the state.

In  2003, the Reddings persuaded the Depot Museum to allow then to build an addition onto the museum to house some of the bones discovered on their property.

They applied for grants to make that expansion a reality and Kathleen Kennedy, a producer from the Jurassic Park movies, was the first to donate. She gave $5,000 to the effort, Redding said.

The following year, the project gained momentum in Rudyard  and captured the attention of those in surrounding communities.

Redding said that local volunteers pitched in to make the  building a reality, so much so that the building was erected in two days.

The Museum of the Rockies set up the displays.

Another building is being added to the Rudyard facility, which will house antique farm equipment, Redding said.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Redding said that he hopes the museum  can eventually be expanded further to include a repository, where bones can be stored, cleaned and prepared for display.

Although Museum of the Rockies has not sent a crew out for a few years - its storage capacity is full - the Reddings are continuing their pledge to maintain the land and the fossils for research and public display.

Redding said he and his wife do not charge a fee for researchers to come onto to their land. He said their aim is to make the bones accessible to everyone.

"It's not about money, it's not about about how much you can sell something for," Redding said. "The students who have come through our yard and the people we have gotten to know, there is no dollar value you can put on that."    

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