PITTSBURGH – A Wyoming rancher with no connection to the University of Pittsburgh has given the school 4,700 acres of land littered with dinosaur fossils.
The university plans to maintain the land, valued at $7 million, for students and researchers in geology, archaeology and other disciplines. The university plans to team up on programs there with the University of Wyoming and Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
"They have a real gem out there," said Mary Dawson, a paleontologist at the Carnegie Museum who visited the ranch several years ago. The land is "littered with fossils."
Allen Cook of Wheatland, Wyo., said he was getting ready to sell part of his ranch and decided to donate land to the university after an appraiser put him in touch with Alec Stewart, dean of the university's honors college and the appraiser's graduate school classmate.
"The amazing thing is that Cook, who had absolutely no connection with the University of Pittsburgh, had decided that we would be good stewards for this treasure," Stewart said Tuesday.
The 57-year-old rancher said the university's interest "seemed kind of in line with what I'd like — that the land would be preserved."
Cook bought the ranch about 40 miles north of Laramie in the 1980s and said it had long been grazing land. He still owns about 92,000 acres.
Stewart called Cook "a quintessential Westerner, a straight-talker whose handshake means a lot to him. But he also loves his land."
The university's honors college already has a program on the other side of Wyoming, where students explore the geological, ecological and cultural dimensions of Yellowstone National Park.
Stewart has been out to scout the property, which is five times as large as New York City's Central Park.
He called it an "American treasure," noting that it is largely undisturbed and contains fossils, Indian artifacts and interesting geological features.
"It's got all the 'ologies,'" Cook said.