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A T.Rex stands tall at an aban­doned amusement park. Courtesy | Nic Rowan

It’s an old routine — ripped from that part in Jurassic Park when the Bron­tosaurus first appears on screen in glo­rious CGI — and I recite it every time I visit the Pre­his­toric Forest, an aban­doned amusement park just off the side of US-12 in the Irish Hills.

“You’ve said you’ve got a T. Rex?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Say again?”

“We have a T. Rex.”

They do have T. Rex, just not the sort that will try to kill Jeff Goldblum.

Closed since 1999, the park is a mess of half-destroyed fiber­glass dinosaurs, a decaying volcano, and a long shed, which once served as the ter­ritory of a vandal who goes by the name Taxi Kabs.

“I remember coming here as a kid. I wanted to be a dinosaur,” he scrawled on the inside of the volcano along with his tag: TAXI KABS :). It’s the only message in the entire park with any sub­stance. There are no FOR SALE signs or phone numbers posted any­where to indicate own­ership. Vines are creeping up the walls of the old snack bar, located in the parking lot.

It wasn’t always this way. The Pre­his­toric Forest opened in 1963 — alongside a still-oper­a­tional old west town and now-demol­ished go-kart and water­slide park — to accom­modate Detroiters vaca­tioning in the nearby lakes. The park housed 15 dinosaurs, a caveman, and a woolly mammoth at its peak. A 35-foot waterfall and a smoking volcano as well as mock-up dig sites stocked full of fake fossils added to the park’s allure. A water­slide (now beyond dis­repair) over­looked the whole park.

The dinosaurs (which by my count are hard to discern … there’s def­i­nitely half a Veloci­raptor still kicking around there) are the work of James Q. Sidwell, a former dinosaur expert at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural history. Sidwell also designed an accom­pa­nying Pre­his­toric Forest in Mar­blehead, Ohio, and Dinosaur Land in White Post, Vir­ginia.

The Ohio park was the most inter­active of the three: atten­dants issued vis­itors toy M 16s and encouraged them to “shoot” at the fiber­glass models as a Jeep drove them through the attraction.   

But the dino-park craze couldn’t last. The 1980s gutted tourism in the Irish Hills, and the park suf­fered repeated attacks from vandals. In the worst case, Saline High School stu­dents stole the caveman statue, along with three other dinosaurs, in 1985 and set them up on the front lawn of the school. Author­ities returned the statues to the park.

Local stu­dents repeated the prank in 2010, this time dropping the caveman on top of a school in Onsted. School admin­is­trators called in con­struction vehicles to remove the mock-up, according to local reports.

After the 2010 incident, van­dalism increased. The worst occured in Nov. 2012, when 13 high school stu­dents (along with two of their fathers) broke into the park while staying in the area for an annual weekend track meet. The marauders beheaded and dis­mem­bered the majority of the statues — many of which are still laid low.

Police were able to track the stu­dents down because security cameras on the trails pho­tographed some of the stu­dents wearing varsity track jackets. Everyone involved was charged with tres­passing and van­dalism. (Nota Bene to the curious tres­passer: The cameras have since been destroyed or removed. The only thing keeping you from the Pre­his­toric Forest is a fence sur­rounding the parking lot.)

Right now, the future is uncertain for the Pre­his­toric Forest. But hey, Jurassic Park has a line for that one too: “Life, uh … finds a way.”