Providing the Jurassic experience

Friends of Dinosaur Ridge celebrates 30th anniversary

Posted 4/17/19

There’s something mystical about dinosaurs. It could be the sheer size of them, said Jeff Lamontagne, executive director of Friends of Dinosaur Ridge, or because they’re no longer here and that …

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Providing the Jurassic experience

Friends of Dinosaur Ridge celebrates 30th anniversary

Posted

There’s something mystical about dinosaurs.

It could be the sheer size of them, said Jeff Lamontagne, executive director of Friends of Dinosaur Ridge, or because they’re no longer here and that “there’s nothing quite like them roaming the earth today.”

No matter where peoples’ fascination with dinosaurs derives from, one thing that’s certain is Dinosaur Ridge is the place to visit to learn about the massive creatures that lived in Colorado about 150 million years ago.

“Because Dinosaur Ridge is globally recognized as an important paleontology site,” Lamontagne said, “there’s a lot of pride in the community for Dinosaur Ridge.”

Dinosaur Ridge is a designated National Natural Landmark in Morrison, world-famous for its dinosaur tracks and fossils that can be viewed on the ridge’s four sites — Bones Quarry, Crocodile Creek, Dinosaur Tracksite and Brontosaur Bulges — as well as a secondary site in Golden called Triceratops Trail.

According to a paper authored by five paleontologists that was published in the 2016 book, “Dinosaur Tracks: The Next Steps,” Dinosaur Ridge is ranked number one and Triceratops Trail is ranked number three for track sites.

There are 16 different criteria that determine this ranking, said Kermit Shields, a retired geologist and current Friends of Dinosaur Ridge board member. In brief, Shields said, it has to with site size and preservation, number of tracks and different species represented, and geologic and historic features of the site; as well as its visitation and educational value.

“Dinosaur Ridge has something for people of all different ages and interests,” Shields said. “Talking about dinosaurs is a great hook to get anyone excited about science.”

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Friends of Dinosaur Ridge, a nonprofit, operates Dinosaur Ridge in partnership with Jefferson County Open Space. A small staff and volunteers run the day-to-day operations of the site, its educational programming and visitor facilities.

Hosting more than 235,000 visitors in 2018, Friends of Dinosaur Ridge’s mission is twofold — to ensure preservation of the site’s natural and historic discoveries, and provide education to the public.

Circa 1988, Joe Tempel, who was employed as the Denver area environmental manager for CDOT at the time, heard that dinosaur tracks were being chiseled out of Dinosaur Ridge and stolen. So, he got together with Dick Scott, a local paleontologist, and John Dolson, a local geologist, to figure out how best to preserve Dinosaur Ridge.

About a year later, a chain link fence was installed, Friends of Dinosaur Ridge was formed “and the rest is history,” Tempel said, who became the organization’s first executive director and served from 2001-2016. Tempel and his wife Holly now reside in South Carolina.

Since the formation of Friends of Dinosaur Ridge, there has not been any major vandalism at Dinosaur Ridge, Tempel said. And from the previous thefts, some of the tracks were recovered, but not all of them. Oddly enough, Tempel said, about 10 years ago, a man returned a fossil to Dinosaur Ridge, stating that his son found it on his college campus, Tempel said.

“We weren’t sure how truthful the story was,” Tempel said, “but we were just happy to have it (the fossil) back.”

Friends of Dinosaur Ridge is funded through the revenue generated from the public, guided bus tours; its two gift shops; various programming, including summer camps; donations; and the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD).

“As a nonprofit, it depends on community support,” said Holly Tempel, a Colorado native who volunteered at Dinosaur Ridge and helped with fundraising efforts. “That’s how Dinosaur Ridge stays alive.”

For Marsha Barber, a former science teacher and currently the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge’s board chair, the best part is watching the excitement on the children’s faces when they see a real dinosaur track for the first time.

Most kids enjoy reading books about dinosaurs, Barber said. So most of the students, specifically the kindergarteners through third graders, already know how to pronounce the names of their favorite dinosaur — stegosaurus, T-rex, brontosaurus, etc. But, Barber added, only a few of them know what a fossil is until their first visit to Dinosaur Ridge.

“This is where they can look at a real fossil inside the rock where it was found,” Barber said.

In addition, Lamontagne added, the tracks at Dinosaur Ridge are some of the most well-preserved tracks found anywhere on earth.

“Being able to put your hand in a real dinosaur track,” Lamontagne said, “is an experience unlike anything else you can do.”

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