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Museum shop caters to big, small spenders

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LEHI — Parents, protect your wallets.

Or at the very least, make sure your kids have a currency of their own when you visit the gift shop at the new dinosaur museum at Thanksgiving Point.

At this store, rocks and bird nests actually serve as money that can be used to snap up the prehistoric treasures that young and old alike may find irresistible.

From among the gift shop items at the North American Museum of Ancient Life, which opens to the public amid fanfare Saturday, children will be allowed to "buy" some items using points they earn for finding and researching intriguing things from nature's bounty.

"We'll have something for everybody — 30,000 items in 2,000 square feet of space. We'll have actual fossils here and books and science test kits and a whole lot of fun things," said Andi Pitcher, the education and outreach specialist who has designed the gift shop, named "Findings."

"We could get you a dinosaur if you want. We have jeweled fobs made from ammonite and butterfly wings. We'll have lots of dinosaur egg rock candy, even bugs in amber to eat. We'll have all sorts of puzzles. And, of course, we have dinosaur poop."

A handful of dinosaur droppings will be among the less expensive items. More than 10,000 items will be $2.50 or less. The most expensive include the fossil jewelry and raptor ties.

The shop will be set up for some fun learning.

For example, children will be encouraged to climb trees in a "Book Cliffs" section to perch in a soft nest while browsing a book. In a section called "Egg Mountain," bean-bag dinosaur eggs will invite some investigation.

A waterfall will be part of a "Green River" area where an herbivore may have once roamed.

"The store is organized to show what it might have been like when the dinosaurs were alive. What did the dinosaurs do?" Pitcher said. "We tend to think of them as dead in the desert, when the terrain in most places was lush."

The gift shop will actually be a mini-museum, said Pitcher.

"(Kids) can role-play as paleontologists, as the dinosaurs themselves," she said. "The products sell if the kids interact with them. Kids will play to learn, and the adults will learn to play."

Pitcher has gathered an impressive assortment of goods to sell at the shop, from art supplies to tiny volcanoes.

Many of her merchandise selections were prompted by suggestions from the paleontologists working to create the exhibit and display items.

She's aware that some believe fossils ought not to be sold or marketed, that it's wrong to sell pieces of the earth's history as nightlights and knickknacks.

But she believes the educational benefits that come from teaching someone about a fossil through personal ownership are great enough to warrant the merchandising.

"I think collecting fossils can be like collecting great art. We teach responsible collecting when we treat it as a fine art. We become aware that we're talking 250 to 400 million years of history beneath our feet," she said.

A reception for invited guests will be Friday at 6:30 p.m. Admission to the museum, which opens to the public Saturday at 10 a.m., is $6.95 for adults, $4.95 for children 3 to 12. Tickets can be pre-purchased through July 22 by calling 766-5000. The museum will be open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

E-MAIL: haddoc@desnews.com