Published: Jul 22, 2009 02:00 AM
Modified: Jul 22, 2009 10:31 AM
Under a steady patter of rain, an angry-looking albertosaurus rises from the underbrush, its mouth open as if about to roar.
The T-rex relative lurches at the trail below, where smiling children splash through the puddles and point at the 30-foot carnivore with a row of sharp teeth.
"They don't care that it's raining, they just want to see the dinosaurs," said Taneka Bennett, marketing director for N.C. Museum of Life and Science.
The museum's new $1.5 million dinosaur trail opens to the public Saturday. It is North Carolina's only outdoor dinosaur trail. It replaces a previous trail that opened in 1967 but closed in 1996 after being severely damaged by Hurricane Fran.
In 2003, Durham County voters approved $675,000 for the new trail, leaving the museum to raise the rest. "The trail really needed to be a public-private partnership, said Julie Rigby, vice president for external relations.
Officials don't know if any of the nine dinosaurs on the trail walked in what is now North Carolina. But they all lived in North America and the museum hired a team of people to make sure the dinosaurs were placed in realistic scenes.
Chuck Pell, a biologist at Duke University, helped the museum with the project. Pell said he saw a traveling dinosaur exhibit as a child and he's "never recovered." He worked with museum officials to choose species and examine how they would interact.
He also made assumptions about color patterns based on the ecology and the environment. Males, for example, he says are brightly colored to mark their territory, whereas females are camouflaged.
Paleoartists at Walters & Kissinger, a firm in Philadelphia, created illustrations and small, football-sized 3D models of the dinosaurs. Then a Canadian firm, Studio Y Creations, scanned the dimensions and contours of the small models and created the life-sized sculptures in the park today. The team members collaborated throughout the process.
The artists would say, "you're showing the tail too low," and the museum would fix it, said Roy Griffiths, vice president of exhibits and planning.
The Maiasaura, or "good mother lizard," is guarding its eggs from another dinosaur.
"That's the classic example within the dinosaur study," said Roy Griffiths, vice president of exhibits and planning. "That species took care of its young."
The museum also used plants like ferns, Southern magnolias, and ginkgo to reflect the dinosaurs' Late Cretaceous period environment.
The models on the trail have steel frames. A Styrofoam layer, covers that. The foam is painted and coated in epoxy. Griffiths says scientists believe the colors of the dinosaurs are as accurate as possible, but adds coloring is one of the "greatly debates issues."
But the children seem unconcerned as they climb atop the bright orange Parasaurolophus, the dinosaur designated for interaction with a robust external shell. There is also a 1,000 square foot fossil dig site, featuring fossils from a coastal phosphate mine.
The trail is "more than about walking and looking," Griffiths said. Rigby said the trail has brought families together for social learning and interaction.
"Some adults are learning from their kids," she said. "I think that's really a neat aspect to it."
The trail is incredible, said Reyn Bowman, the president of the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau. He says about 70 percent of the museum visitors are not residents of Durham, but usually people who live nearby and are taking a daytrip. Bowman says visitors are drawn to the multiple exhibits the museum offers, and the dinosaur trail will add to that.
"From a community marketing standpoint, it's a gold mine," he said.