Visitors to Red Fleet State Park are destroying preserved dinosaur footprints, according to officials at the park in Vernal, Utah.
Specifically, officials allege that tourists have been removing pieces of sandstone imprinted with prehistoric dino tracks and throwing them into a nearby lake, potentially shattering or dissolving the artifacts. Though officials say tourists probably don’t always realize the rocks they’re throwing into the lake contain dinosaur footprints, it’s still not clear why they’re dislodging sandstone from a state park and throwing it into a lake in the first place.
Josh Hansen, the park’s manager, told the Salt Lake Tribunethat he recently stopped a kid from tossing a red slab with two dinosaur toe-prints into the water. But by the time Hansen reached him, the boy had already thrown multiple tracks in the lake.
The footprints likely come from the three-toed Deinonychus, a dinosaur that Jurassic Parkfamouslymislabeled as a Velociraptor,or “raptor.”These dinos wandered the Earth about 120 to 110 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous Period. Only unlike the ones in the movie, they didn’t really spray their prey with venom.
Though the footprints aren’t official designated as fossils, the Utah code treats them as such. This means that visitors who toss them in the water could theoretically receive a felony charge.
Park officials say they are reluctant to go there, hoping instead that they can convince visitors to stop doing this. The park will put up more signs reminding people not to tamper with the site, but is clearly frustrated that people aren’t paying attention to the existing signs that already tell them not to disturb the area.
The park estimates that in the past six months, tourists have removed at least 10 of the larger, more visible dino footprints, which range from 3 to 17 inches long.
The issue of tourists tampering with preservation sites is something that many national and state parks have struggled with in the last few years. In 2016, a video showed visitors toppling an iconic rock formation at Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City, Oregon. The same year, two other tourists got in trouble for spray painting a rock formation at the Grand Canyon.
Thanks to deep budget cuts for national parks by the Trump administration, the parks will have to make difficult decisions about how to balance their job of making the lands available to the public while also protecting these sites for future generations.