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Dino-track hearing lures Utahns

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ST. GEORGE, Washington County — Since discovering dinosaur footprints on his farm near the Virgin River last year, retired optometrist Sheldon Johnson has told his story to thousands of people.

Soon members of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands will hear it, too.

Last week, the Johnsons received a faxed invitation to testify at a July 26 subcommittee hearing.

"They want to hear our story of how the dinosaur tracks were found and their effect on people and the community," said LaVerna Johnson. The subcommittee is requesting 75 copies of the Johnsons' testimony and exhibits by July 23 for use by committee members and the media.

More than 150,000 people from around the globe have been to the two-acre site that paleontologists say contains some of the best-preserved dinosaur footprints ever found. Some of the 200 million-year-old dinosaur tracks are shielded from the sun under an open shed, but wind, rain, heat and other factors are contributing to their deterioration.

The subcommittee is considering a bill by Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, that would provide funding to help preserve the dinosaur site and its artifacts by purchasing the land and giving it to St. George. The bill would also authorize additional federal grants of up to $500,000, plus technical assistance, to help the city and county to preserve the site.

"We just want the volunteers and everyone else to know there is some positive movement to help preserve these artifacts that people tell us are priceless," Johnson said. "The volunteers are keeping the site open and work long, hot hours. We want them to know people do care and we're moving in the right direction."

The Utah Office of Museum Services also awarded two grants to the DinosaurAHtorium, a nonprofit entity established by the Johnsons in anticipation of building an interactive museum at the site.

The two grants, one for $3,000 and another for $6,000, will help stabilize the artifacts and develop age-appropriate curriculum material for schoolchildren that visit the site, Johnson said.

Also invited to testify before the subcommittee is St. George Mayor Dan McArthur, who has voiced his desire to see the dinosaur tracks preserved. The city is working with Hansen, the Johnsons and the landowner, Shadow Mountain Development, to protect the site.

E-MAIL: perkins1@redrock.net