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Derby theme park plans more than 30 life-size animatronic dinos

If you want to delight and thrill your 4-year-old (or yourself), this could do it: dinosaurs galore.

More than 30 life-size animatronic dinosaurs will be featured in a 14-acre dinosaur adventure theme park slated to open in Derby next Memorial Day. They’ll roar and watch your every move.

Construction has already begun on the park. The organizers chose Thursday to announce some of the dinosaurs that will be featured and to talk about why they chose Kansas for the park.

Field Station: Dinosaurs will have your basic Alamosaurus and Velociraptor with an Arkansaurus and a Tyrannosaurus rex thrown in – lots of sauruses. Thirty-four dinosaurs in all. Among the others:

Ankylosaurus Anzu Wyliei, Apatosaurus, Appalachiosaurus, Baryonix, Brachiosaurus, Claosaurus, Compsognathus, Daspletosaurus, Deinosauchus, Dilophosaurus, Dimetrodon, Dracorex Hogwartsia, Dryptosaurs, Edmontosaurus, Hadrosaurus, Hypsibema Missourie, Niobrarasaurus Coleii, Nyctosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus, Parasaurolophus, Pteranodon, Quetzocoatlus, Saurophaganax, Sauroposeidon, Spinosaurus, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Tylosaurus and Utahraptor.

The park will be set up like a scientific expedition, inviting children and other visitors to dig for fossils, walk past life-size animatronic dinosaur models and take part in events, Guy Gsell, executive director.

“Kansas is like the birthplace of modern paleontology,” Gsell said. “You had your Bone Wars here, your most famous discoverers were here. Paleontology as a science should resonate with Kansas.”

The Smoky Hill chalk beds of western Kansas have long been known for their rich fossils. Many Kansas fossils are now in museums.

And it was in western Kansas that the bitter rivalries of the most prominent paleontologists of the day – Harvard professor E.D. Cope and Yale professor O.C. Marsh – played out over a 40-foot plesiosaur, which was excavated in 1867 by a military detail from Fort Wallace. Cope assembled the plesiosaur but put the tail where the head should have been. Marsh ridiculed him and their rivalry played out in newspapers and academic papers of the day.

Derby’s $6.5 million park is being paid for through private financing and some of the $20 million in Sales Tax Revenue bonds, also called STAR bonds, recently issued by the state to Derby. STAR bonds serve as financial incentives for private businesses to create destinations that attract out-of-state visitors and to encourage in-state visitors to stay in the area for an extra day or two. Derby plans to use the rest of the STAR bond money for a larger development that includes a hospital, hotel, restaurants and retail shops.

“I didn’t pick Derby,” Gsell said, “Derby picked me. Derby is a community that is family-friendly.”

Gsell has a similar park in New Jersey and said he describes his perfect audience as 4-year-old kids who love dinosaurs.

“It also appeals to parents who are fun and cool but for people who are looking at something more than a goofy vacation,” he said. “Wichita has so many science attractions – Exploration Place, the Sedgwick County Zoo, the Kansas Aviation Museum, Tanganyika Wildlife Park. We think this is a great place for family science tourism, which is exactly what I do. We think this creates synergy for a number of top notch science attractions.”

The park will be located near the intersection of Rock Road and Patriot Ave.

The individual ticket price may vary some before the opening on Memorial Day weekend, but Gsell says it will be around $15 a person, with specials, group rates and season tickets. People can buy a limited amount of special access tickets at $100 each that include an invitation to the grand opening, a season pass and entry to some events at the park.

World class Kansas fossils

Both the tylosaurus and pteranodon are almost exclusively Kansas fossils. The two – one a marine lizard and the other a flying reptile – lived at the same time as dinosaurs and are now our state fossils.

The tylosaurus was a sea lizard that grew to be longer than a school bus, about 45 feet. With a skull four to five feet long and equipped with large teeth, it could eat anything it wanted. Its closest living relative is the Komodo dragon.

The pteranodon, a massive 25-foot flying reptile, is one of the best known fossils. It has been featured in movies such as “King Kong” and “Jurassic Park.”

The first known specimen of the tylosaurus was found in 1868 near Monument Rocks by an Army captain.

The first pteranodon wing bones were found in Logan County in 1870 by Professor O.C. Marsh of Yale College. The name pteranodon longiceps means “long-headed toothless flier.”

Barnum Brown, one of the foremost paleontologists, was a Kansas native and the first to document remains of a T.rex.

All that may make Kansas a good place for a dinosaur theme park. But the plans surprised some folks.

“I am still surprised that they came here,” said Mike Everhart, who lives in Derby and is adjunct curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays. He is the creator and webmaster of the educational “Oceans of Kansas Paleontology” web site, www.oceansofkansas.com.

He has been consulted on the park.

“I think it’s a great idea from an educational viewpoint. We don’t have anything like this in Kansas for kids to get a hands-on up-close approach to what dinosaurs were like, how big they were and how much variety. This is the biggest one I know about.

“Golly, it is going to be beautiful. I hope people take advantage of it once it’s open and go to it.”

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner

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