New Jersey dinosaur-themed park to close at the end of year
SECAUCUS, N.J. (AP) — Their roars and wails beckoned visitors 90 million years into the past, but in the end, their reign will have lasted little more than three. Because soon, the Turnpike Tyrannosaurus will be no more.
Field Station: Dinosaurs, a prehistoric theme park in Secaucus, is due to close after the end of its 2015 season, its president tells NJ.com. The outdoor attraction's parade of dinos, from the towering T. rex to the stubby triceratops, will have to move out to make room for the construction of a high school building.
The dinosaur park, nestled just off the New Jersey Turnpike in a previously empty part of Laurel Hill Park, opened in May of 2012. Its debut seemed somewhat fated, given the hill's reptilian-themed original name— Snake Hill —and what the Lenni Lenape called Secaucus: "a place where snakes hide."
Field Station, which plays host to school groups in the off-season, officially reopens to the public on May 23, and operates through Labor Day weekend.
After that, the park's president, Guy Gsell, doesn't know where the dinosaurs will go.
"We were a little surprised," he says. "It's kind of a race against time."
And yes, there is the potential for extinction. Gsell says it's possible that Field Station won't find the money or space to relocate.
Taking the dinosaurs' place will be High Tech High School— one of the Hudson County Schools of Technology —which is relocating from North Bergen.
James Kennelly, spokesman for Hudson County, says construction of the campus will start in the first half of 2016. Pre-construction work is currently in progress.
"Now is the right time," he says. "Obviously the landscape will change."
Norman Guerra, CEO of the Hudson County Improvement Authority, called Field Station a good temporary fit for the site.
"Prior to that it was just grass growing," he says, adding that the attraction brought summer jobs to the area.
Though the robotic dinos have weathered their share of storms, including Hurricane Sandy (after which at least one dinosaur was replaced), the theme park's residency on county land was always going to come to an end.
The county school was in the planning stages when Field Station signed its three-year lease. The park did extend its lease for two more years, but Gsell received a letter from the county in December indicating that the school project would begin. So now, instead of leaving after the fifth year, the dinosaurs must be out in four, by Dec. 31, Gsell says.
"Certainly we'd like to stay here in New Jersey," he says, but maintains it will be difficult to find the necessary 8- to 10-acre space, especially in northern New Jersey.
Part of the allure of Field Station was that the dinosaurs were planted in clearings between the park's reeds and foliage. Its lumbering Argentinosaurus is visible from the top of the Empire State Building, says Gsell, who recently spotted a prominent T. rex from One World Trade Center.
Attendance has fallen off since the opening season in 2012, but Gsell says that was expected. The price of admission has also been lowered from $17.50 to $20 to $15 for all ages.
"We'd be going strong if we hadn't lost our lease," he says, adding that the attraction drew up to 3,000 people on some days.
Still, the impending closure doesn't mean a total slowdown. As the park prepares for its May opening, the dinosaurs are getting new coats of paint. When the latest Jurassic Park movie "Jurassic World" hits theaters in June, Field Station will have premiered a new stage show focused on how dinosaurs sound.
The park has worked with paleontologists from the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, making sure recent findings are reflected in signage. A piece of paper tacked on this month reads "Apatosaurus or Brontosaurus," explaining that new research indicates these longnecks were distinct groups of dinosaurs.
There's also the street name: Dinosaur Way. Perhaps, Gsell says, Secaucus will keep the sign up as a memento.
"We've been studying all the theories of extinction," he says. But the dinosaurs losing their lease— that wasn't one of them.
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