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Museum ROCKS

The more than 80 elementary students who wandered around the 12,000-square-foot Crater Rock Museum on Thursday were far more smitten with a massive T-Rex statue and rocks that glowed in the dark than they were with the fancy expansion that was recently completed.

Volunteers, however, couldn't be more excited to unveil their new digs to the community this Saturday.

Though it never officially closed, the museum has been in one or more phases of construction for the past half-dozen years.

Finally settled into their expanded Scenic Avenue digs, members of the Roxy Ann Gem and Mineral Society will host an official unveiling and dedication from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

With more display space than ever, and creative use of the added square footage, volunteers say local rock hounds are in for a surprise. Adding to the extensive rock and mineral displays in place, though stored and rotated over the years because of space constraints, the collection now offers full room-size displays dedicated to gems, petrified woods, fossils, native American artifacts and other collectibles.

A community room (available to the public) has been added, along with fossil and geology labs, a founders' room, dedicated to the museum founders and major donors over the years, and educational and interactive displays.

Moving into the new millennium, the museum is placing an increased emphasis on hands-on learning and community partnerships, with events such as monthly "Kids Day" activities.

Rock hound Delmar Smith opened a small two-room museum on the site in 1954 in response to his wife's insistence that he do something with his space-consuming rock collection.

First president of the Roxy Ann Gem and Mineral Society, formed in 1952, Smith's original museum was smaller than the current museum's new gift shop.

Over the years, volunteers have modernized, expanded and repaired their museum, with an initial expansion in the 1970s with a donation from former member Cap Mentzer to build "Mentzer Hall."

A quarter century later, in 2003, the museum was approached by a wealthy entrepreneur identified only as Neil. Dying of cancer, the man wanted to find a suitable home for his extensive collection of rocks, minerals, glass and other specimens.

The collection dubbed "Suomynona," or Anonymous spelled backwards, is valued at between $1.3 and $1.5 million.

Museum volunteer Connie Silver said, all told, renovations at the museum have totaled about $800,000 over the past seven years with construction done in phases as money and volunteer labor became available.

"We never actually closed because this was an addition onto the old building," Silver said.

"We built around the existing facility so we could stay open and have a place to keep everything. We're excited to finally be done with it all."

Bunny Riley said local residents, including some 1,500 schoolchildren every year, often are surprised at the museum's offerings, from thunder eggs and dinosaur bones to cars, airplanes and a carousel crafted of rock.

"It's really always been a world-class museum, but especially now," Riley said. "I think because it's in such a small place like Central Point, people may know it's there but they don't think it's too much of a place.

"I don't know how many times we've advertised and still just tons of people don't know about the museum. They come in all the time and say, 'We've passed by this for years and finally decided to come in!' And they're always flabbergasted at what's here."

Riley added, "If you haven't been here in a few years, you can just as soon tell people you haven't been here. Because it's changed that much. So they really should come in and check us out."

Admission to Saturday's grand "reopening" is free to the public and will include refreshments, door prizes, a brief ceremony, interactive displays and information on classes, events and a schedule of collections displayed.

Crater Rock Museum is at 2002 Scenic Ave., Central Point. For more information, call 541-664-6081 or see www.craterrock.com.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@jyahoo.com.

Rylee Boyersmith, 8, looks at a display Thursday at the Crater Rock Museum in Central Point. The latest expansion at the museum will open to the public Saturday. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore