OGDEN They stand tall against the sky, these dinosaurs. They loom.
On a typical Saturday at the George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park, hundreds of children and parents learn how it feels to be dwarfed by dinosaurs. They wander among scale models representing dinosaurs that actually roamed this area millions of years ago.
The visitors stand close to the dinosaurs, and then they look up. They can't help but notice the size of the teeth and claws. The Eccles Dinosaur Park is a good place for folks who like to pretend they are about to be devoured.
This spring the park turned 15 years old. As summer comes and parents across the state look for a place to take their children, more of them are discovering the Dinosaur Park, park manager Kevin Ireland says.
"No question our numbers are up. Up over 35 percent from where we were two years ago," Ireland reports.
"We are finally getting the word out in the Salt Lake Valley. We get visitors from Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada. Teachers bring their classes. We are expecting over 150,000 visitors this year."
The park features more than 125 dinosaurs, displayed on eight acres on the south side of the Ogden River, near the mouth of Ogden Canyon. Ireland says the city owns 11 more acres on the other side of the river and there are plans to expand the park.
He credits one local man, Bob Marquardt, with the initial vision. Ireland describes how Marquardt convinced the city that something more could be done with the property and then went out and solicited donations to build a museum and put walkways through the scrub oak.
At first the Dinosaur Park was a collaboration between Ogden city and Weber State University. Now the city pays for operations, and a foundation raises money for new exhibits, Ireland explains.
The newest addition to the Eccles Dinosaur Park is a big one. On an upper floor of the Stewart Museum, the park now displays a huge collection of gems, minerals and petrified wood, a collection that was previously on display in Ogden's Union Station.
The vision for this particular exhibit belonged to a couple of Ogden schoolteachers Jean Case and his wife, Helena. The Cases, who helped start the Golden Spike Gem and Mineral Society, donated their collection to the public in 1988. Before their deaths, the Cases convinced many of their fellow collectors to donate as well.
Utahns should be proud that people from throughout the Intermountain West choose to give their life's work to this particular collection, Ivan Rudd says. And, he adds, the gem collection will be seen by a lot more people now that it is housed in the Dinosaur Park.
Rudd and his wife, Liz, have been volunteer docents with the gem exhibit at both sites. Rudd says that on one Saturday at the Dinosaur Park, they had 1,000 visitors, whereas at the Union Station they probably only had 1,000 visitors a year.
A lot more children are seeing the gemstones now, Rudd says. Children gravitate to the big stones, even though the big ones may not be the most exquisite or expensive. "We do have the largest ammonite," he notes. That particular fossil came from Canada.
Visitors to the Dinosaur Park will learn how fossils were formed, Ireland explains. "We bring it to life. Kids get to see how bones were turned into fossils, how they are discovered, they get to touch and feel."
Highlights of a visit to the Eccles Dinosaur Park include watching University of Utah-trained volunteers chipping away on actual fossils. Kids who attend a six-hour Dino Day Camp get a chance to work inside the paleontology lab themselves.
When they expand the park expands across the river, Ireland foresees more activities for teens. There will be a zip-line and places to play paintball and camp, too, he says.Meanwhile, Rudd predicts that at least some of the children who visit the Dinosaur Park this summer will become so fascinated by the gem and mineral collection that, when they become teenagers, they will be spending their vacations out looking for rocks.
If you go ...
What: George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park
Where: 1544 Park Blvd., Ogden
When: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m., and Sunday, noon -6 p.m., Memorial Day to Labor Day; Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and Sunday, noon-6 p.m., during the winter
How much: $4 for ages 2 to 12; $5 for students and senior citizens; $6 for adults