Reports suggest that tourists have been vandalizing the dinosaur footprints that lined parts of Red Fleet State Park in Utah, removing the tracks that have been preserved in sandstone, then throwing them into a nearby lake.
A report from the Associated Press quoted Red Fleet State Park manager Josh Hansen, who said that the archaeological site at the park, which is lined by hundreds of raptor tracks, has been “heavily damaged” over the last six months or so. Separately, Hansen told the Salt Lake Tribune about a previous experience he had with a young park visitor, including one who was throwing large sandstone slabs over a cliff and into the lake. While he was able to stop the youngster from tossing another piece of preserved dinosaur footprints, Hansen told the publication that he wished he had caught wind of the situation sooner.
“He had already thrown multiple [tracks in the water],” Hansen recalled.
Commenting on the damage done on the dinosaur tracks at Red Fleet, Utah Division of State Parks spokesman Devan Chavez said that “at least 10” of the larger footprints, which range from about 3 to 17 inches in length, might have been stolen since November 2017. He described this as a “conservative” estimate of the damage, which is becoming an increasingly problematic issue for park officials. Chavez noted that some of the stolen footprints have since sank to the bottom of the Red Fleet Reservoir, with others breaking as they hit the water, or “[dissolving] entirely.”
“They’re just looking to throw rocks off the side. What they don’t realize is these rocks they’re picking up, they’re covered in dinosaur tracks.”
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the dinosaur footprints were made about 200 million years ago by members of the raptor family, with the tracks left by these 8-foot-tall creatures serving as the foundation of Red Fleet State Park. Thousands of people visit the park each year, viewing the long trail of raptor tracks that stretch up a slope. However, recent months have seen an increase in the number of incidents involving visitors who remove pieces of sandstone from the trail, then throw the rocks into the water. This is despite the fact that park officials have placed signs with messages such as “Do not disturb the rocks,” and “We are depending on you to preserve this special place.”
The dinosaur footprints, which are believed to have been made by the dilophosaurus, a crested member of the raptor family, are classified as fossils under Utah state laws, even if they do not technically qualify as such. That means anyone caught destroying or vandalizing them could be charged in court with a felony. So far, nobody has been charged for destroying these dinosaur tracks, but Chavez warned that he and other officials will be more vigilant, and will “crack down” more frequently on the ongoing vandalism.