A Jurassic Discovery

Dinosaur bones are plentiful at this former iron-mining site.

Dinosaurs were reptiles and Astrodon was an extremely large reptile. Scientists estimate that Astrodon was at least sixty feet long and weighed several tons. In fact, a six-foot-long, 220-pound femur (thigh bone) was uncovered at the Muirkirk Deposit in the 1990s, confirming Astrodon’s enormous size.

In May of 1998 the Maryland State Assembly named Astrodon Johnston the Maryland State Dinosaur.

Another scientist interested in the dinosaur finds in Maryland was dinosaur expert Professor O.C. Marsh of Yale University. In the winter of 1887–1888, Professor Marsh sent an assistant, John Bell Hatcher, to collect dinosaur bones from iron mines in Maryland.

Hatcher collected at the Muirkirk deposit and recovered hundreds of bones and teeth, including those of turtles and crocodiles. One specimen was a small sauropod named Pleurocoelus. Some scientists believe Pleurocoelus to be a juvenile Astrodon.

Collection of dinosaur bones in Maryland continued in the 1890s with Arthur Bagnold Bibbins, whose findings were added to the collections of the Smithsonian Institution.

Fossil collecting at The Muirkirk Deposit essentially stopped when the iron industry died out in the early twentieth century and was not revived until the 1980s when dinosaur enthusiasts rediscovered this fascinating resource.

At Dinosaur Park, everyday people have the chance to work alongside paleontologists to discover Maryland’s ancient past. Dr. Peter Kranz, a stalwart supporter of the development of Dinosaur Park and educational programs for children and adults, is the experienced paleontologist who staffs Dinosaur Park.

With a team of dedicated volunteer paleontologists, Dr. Kranz offers bi-monthly open houses at the park to allow the young and old, experienced and inexperienced, to participate in discovering the past.

Since opening to the public in October of 2009, several significant discoveries have been made by visitors to the park. In 2010, a nine-year-old girl found a thumbnail-sized fossil bone that turned out to be the a section of vertebra from a 110-million-year old raptor!

Also, a young boy recovered a partial jaw of a meat-eating dinosaur. Dozens of children and adults have found fossilized sequoia cones, crocodile teeth and armor, and turtle shell.

Education and research are equally important parts of the park’s mission.

The M-NCPPC Department of Parks and Recreation vision for Dinosaur Park is three-fold:

• To protect and preserve the fossil deposits from development and unrestricted collecting;

• To provide an outdoor laboratory where scientists can discover new species of dinosaurs and plants;

• To provide a place where the public can work alongside professional and amateur paleontologists.

Dinosaur Park is open to the public year round on the first and third Saturdays of the month from noon to 4 p.m. In addition, group tours (school, Scouts, clubs, or family outings) and activities can be arranged for a fee upon request.

A fenced-in area at the park is where fossil collecting takes place. But Dinosaur Park also features an interpretive garden with plants reminiscent of dinosaur times and four interpretive wayside signs, that describe dinosaurs in Maryland, the State dinosaur Astordon johnstoni, the industrial past of area, and the lives of the African American miners who worked the iron mines and found the first dinosaur bones at what is now Dinosaur Park.

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