Idaho museum of natural history unveiling new exhibit honoring its founder - East Idaho News

Idaho museum of natural history unveiling new exhibit honoring its founder

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The following is a news release and photos from the Shoshone Bird Museum of Natural History.

SHOSHONE – Idaho’s Mammoth Cave is opening an additional museum of natural history next week in honor of the late Richard Arthur Olsen, who founded and curated this famous Idaho landmark before passing away in 2019.

Carrying on their founder’s mission to educate those who want to learn more about natural objects, worldwide histories, and various cultures of the past, visitors of the Richard Arthur Olsen Museum of Natural History will gain an immense understanding and appreciation of different periods throughout history. Exhibits will include an amazing array of fossils, rocks, gemstones, animals, and cultural artifacts from around the world.

“We are overjoyed to be able to share this wonderful collection that benefits local communities and visitors from around the world,” Managing Owner Katie Ann Olsen says. “Since our father’s passing, it has been our number one goal to carry on his legacy of love for nature and history. He was fascinated by the world around him, and his desire to share the things he found and collected led him to plan this additional museum of natural history. He was a great blessing to us all, and his legacy needs to live on as a testimony of who he was.”

The Richard Arthur Olsen Museum of Natural History will open on June 11.

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A photo of Richard Arthur Olsen | Shoshone Bird Museum of Natural History

About Idaho’s Mammoth Cave

When you’re driving through southern Idaho on Highway 75, you’ll see the sign for “Idaho’s Mammoth Cave & Shoshone Bird Museum Of Natural History”, eight miles north of Shoshone.

If you take the time to drive the dusty mile off the highway, you’ll discover what a beautiful diamond in the rough awaits you, and what a rich history it has. It is a place where ancient lava flows scar the land and where harsh winter winds and snow provide nourishment for exploding wildflowers and lush sagebrush.

Our founder, Richard Arthur Olsen, was an eccentric man with an unbelievable love for nature, history, and the outdoors. He was an avid hunter and collector who traveled the world and brought back nearly everything you could imagine. His collection is an unbelievable mix of animal and bird mounts, long-forgotten fossils, and artifacts of ancient people. He was his own taxidermist, and most of the mounted animals you will see were the careful work of his own two hands.

As a high school senior, Richard Arthur Olsen, discovered Idaho’s Mammoth Cave in 1954 while hunting bobcats in the area. He was with a girlfriend at the time and stumbled across the entrance by accident. He talked her into exploring the cave with just a single flashlight. He loved to chuckle about how they made their way through the cavern, his excitement and imagination growing the whole time. Expecting to find treasure at any moment, his girlfriend, scared and unhappy, cried the whole way in and the whole way out. It was love at first sight for him, and he decided that he wanted to share this beautiful cavern with the world.

He began with several different ideas, deciding first to homestead it under the Small Tracts Act, by raising mushrooms in the perfect dark and damp conditions. You can still walk over the remnants of these mushrooms today as you explore the cave (but don’t eat them, because they have grown poisonous over such a long period of time!).

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A photo of the mammoth cave then and now | Shoshone Bird Museum of Natural History

After the mushroom venture didn’t work out as he had planned, he decided to share his dream with the world. At the time, he had just a single diesel-powered generator that powered the lights in the cave. This didn’t prove too successful either because if the generator ran out of fuel – or on most occasions, just plain broke down – it would leave visitors stranded in the dark, and Richard would have to go down and rescue them. Later on, he decided to use propane lanterns that lasted many hours. Today, we use battery-powered lanterns that have proven very safe, dependable, and successful.

Richard built his home next to the cave with the help of his oldest children. It is a four-story, A-frame that was built almost entirely out of wood scraps from a local sawmill. It still stands today, along with the remnants of the first original museum built in the same manner.

In the 1960s, during the Cold War, the U.S. Government approached Richard about using the cave as a civil defense shelter in case the United States was ever under nuclear attack. They promised him a good graveled road if he would let them put food and supplies in the cave for 8,000 people. There, they built a large platform and supplied food and water there for the next 20 years.

Plan a visit

Today, the Shoshone Bird Museum of Natural History and Richard Arthur Olsen Museum of Natural History is dedicated to the good of the community for education and enjoyment of all who visit to develop a better appreciation of our creator who made all of these beautiful things of nature. As the largest private collection of its kind in the North West, it features artifacts from around the world and four generations of Olsen collections.

The cave has a well-established trial, and lanterns are provided. If you have flashlights, they are always good to bring along. It is a self-guided tour that takes about half an hour. You walk about a quarter-mile in and a quarter-mile out. Wearing a light jacket is recommended because the cave keeps a consistent 41 degrees. With special permission, experienced spelunkers may go to the very end of the cave that goes another quarter-mile from the stopping point. There is no trail there, and it is difficult walking.

museum pic

We hope that when you drive by our “Idaho’s Mammoth Cave” sign on Highway 75, north of Shoshone, you take the chance and experience something rarely found. We guarantee you will find it worth your while and will look forward to coming back again and again.

As a privately owned business, Idaho’s Mammoth Cave, the Shoshone Bird Museum of Natural History, and the Richard Arthur Olsen Museum of Natural History receive no state, town, or federal funding for their operations and depend solely on the visitors they receive each summer to pursue their mission of educational service to the public. Standard tours include the cave and Shoshone Bird Museum of Natural History, 7-days a week. Premium tours (Thursday – Sunday) include all three attractions, including the new Richard Arthur Olsen Museum of Natural History.

For more information, call (208) 329-5382. You can also visit our website.