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Yellowstone Revealed: The Draper Natural History Museum

Posted at 9:19 AM, Dec 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-05 11:19:11-05

(Editor's Note: This year Yellowstone National Park celebrates its 150th Birthday. In honor of that historic milestone we're bringing you a new series called "Yellowstone Revealed." These reports will offer a glimpse into the park's colorful history and stories that you've likely never heard before. The fourth and final report - "The Draper Natural History Museum" - tells the story of the museum in Cody, Wyoming that has drawn worldwide attention to the world's first National Park.)

CODY, WY. - A museum focused entirely on Yellowstone has hosted and inspired heads of state, world-renowned conservationists, movie stars, and millions of visitors since it opened in 2002.

The Draper Natural History Museum in Cody celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, but it almost wasn’t built.

Even the groundbreaking was larger than life, with the 80-year-old donor driving a huge yellow backhoe that eclipsed the traditional shovels in the ground ceremony.

Nancy Carrol Draper gave $13 million to help fund the construction of the museum.

African wildlife conservationist and world-renowned anthropologist Dr. Richard Leakey was the keynote speaker at the museum’s grand opening in June 2002.

Actor Clint Eastwood toured the first Natural History Museum of the 21st Century.

It was not just the first, but the first of its kind. It exhibited the sights, sounds, and smells of Yellowstone Country.

The man who designed the exhibits and wrote the descriptive labels, and even took many of the pictures in the Draper, had a new idea.

In 2002, Founding Curator Dr. Charles Preston explained: “We are integrating many different ways to experience nature and to explore nature.”

Museum representatives from around the country and the world came to study the new immersive institution.

Preston recalls the museums, “The Smithsonian, the Utah Museum of Natural History, the French National Museum of Natural History in Paris, the Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks.“

The Draper hosted travel programs in Yellowstone Country and as far away as the Galapagos.

In 2011, the Draper debuted a new live raptor program, whose birds have educated and inspired thousands at the center and in schools and communities across the region.

And in 2013, the Draper's scientific partnership with the University of Wyoming and the Prince of Monaco Foundation brought the royal to Cody. That collaboration gave $300,000 to three scientific studies in the Greater Yellowstone region.

At a ceremony in Cody in 2013, Prince Albert II of Monaco said: “We’re very happy to have this partnership with Buffalo Bill Center for the West, and the Draper Natural History Museum.”

The Draper’s own long-term study of Golden Eagles in the Big Horn Basin drew national attention as the subject of a PBS documentary "Golden Eagles, Witnesses to a Changing West."

But there was fierce opposition at first to the construction of the Draper.

The trustees of the Buffalo Bill Center were concerned about the construction and operating costs of the Draper.

But board chair Alan Simpson, Trustee Willis McDonald, and a presentation by founding curator Charles Preston persuaded the board to build the Draper.