The Sun Shines on Gray
As the scientists continued to unearth fossils, the significance of the site continued to grow. It was definitely time to determine just what to do with the site in order to continue further successful excavations. TDOT still had the highway under construction, and the dilemma was quickly growing. It wasn't until then Governor Don Sundquist visited Johnson City with TDOT Commissioner Bruce Saltsman, TDEC Commissioner Milton H. Hamilton and Deputy to the Governor Justin Wilson that he saw first hand how significant this site was. Governor Sundquist decided to have the road-construction project relocated, diverting the highway about 500 feet west in order to avoid the fossil deposits. This proved to be a win-win situation that allowed road construction to continue while preserving the fossil site for future research. Shortly after, Dr. Paul Stanton, president of East Tennessee State University (ETSU), was able to get the Gray Fossil Site on board as an ETSU project, and Dr. Steven Wallace was hired to lead future excavations and research. As ongoing excavations led by Wallace continued to boost the significance of the site, Governor Sundquist announced an $8 million Federal Highway Administration grant to ETSU for the development of a museum and a visitor's center at the site. Before the grant could be accepted, ETSU had to show that $10 million would be going toward scientific education and outreach in Tennessee in order to receive the $8 million grant.
Shortly after the proposal was made to develop a Center of Excellence in Paleontology, the grant was approved and Dr. Wallace was appointed as the first director. In 2002 due to the leadership and efforts of Governor Sundquist, Dr. Stanton and Dr. Wallace, the center was named the Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology. Several years later, the museum, now called the East Tennessee State University and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum and Visitor Center, opened its doors on August 31, 2007.
Learn more about the history and successes of the Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology and the museum
Photographs Courtesy of the Natural History Museum