Three teens from West Valley City are facing juvenile court charges that they destroyed one or more dinosaur footprints at Red Fleet State Park near Vernal, says the park's manager.
The manager believes they were part of a Boy Scout group holding an outing in the park, but a Scout official says he does not know who they were, and he is not certain whether it was a Scout outing.
The footprints were part of an extremely rare dinosaur trackway, or walkway, where several tracks are preserved together. From them, scientists could re-create the giant carnivore's strides.
The 190 million-year-old tracks are impressed on sandstone in a stretch of rock about 150 feet long. A segment of the sloping slickrock 50 feet wide is exposed above the water of Red Fleet Reservoir. Altogether, around 200 dinosaur footprints have been mapped in the oblong.
The incident happened on July 19, said Curt Sinclear, manager of the park, which is 10 miles north of Vernal. On his day off, Sinclear was preparing to kayak in the reservoir.
Looking across a channel, "I saw four people over on the trackway," he said. He believed them to be youngsters from West Valley City, 13-15 years old, on a water skiing outing with a leader.
"I heard a big thud and a splash, and realized they . . . were throwing rocks off our walkway and hitting the buoy."
He went to the park's patrol boat, and on the way came across the adult leader. "I was pretty upset at that point," he said.
Sinclear and the leader used the boat to cross the 200-yard channel to the dinosaur walkway. "On the way over I could hear two more big splashes. You know, when a big rock hits the water, it goes 'ka-thunk. ' "
At the trackway, they found that two sections of slickrock had been pried up: one about 2 by 3 feet, the other a foot square. The segments were 2 or 3 inches and 6 inches deep, respectively.
On a rock section that remained was part of a dinosaur footprint. The rest of the print had been thrown into the reservoir.
"Do you realize what you're doing?" Sinclear demanded. "Do you realize what you've done?"
The boys had been waiting their turn at water-skiing.
"As far as I know, the young men I talked to did not know there was a trackway there," he said. One was not aware they were in a state park.
"We cited three of the individuals into juvenile court," he said. The boys were charged with destroying natural resources in a state park.
"One of them admitted to prying up rocks; the other two admitted to throwing them into the water and hitting our buoy." The fourth boy was not involved and was not charged.
Sinclear says he is disappointed with the boys' action and with the lack of supervision. Even if they did not know of the footprints, they were prying up rocks and throwing them into the reservoir "without any regard about scarring the landscape."
Utah state paleontologist Jim Kirkland said the walkway site is fairly well-known. "When something's been destroyed like that, it's permanent," he said. "It's pretty sad."
The tracks were made in sediment of a lake that later hardened into stone. They are of a three-toed, meat-eating dinosaur. The species is not known, but Sinclear believes it may have been a creature called Dilophosaurus, which grew up to 12 feet long.
Kay Godfrey, information officer for the Great Salt Lake Council, Boy Scouts of America, condemned the destruction.
Godfrey does not know the names of anyone involved, he added. "Most leaders are required to file a tour permit with us" when they take Scouts on an outing, he said. Scout officials are going through forms trying to discover if any of these indicate a Boy Scout group visited Red Fleet Park on July 19.
"I'm not certain as to whether it was a Scout outing or not." Sometimes a church may sponsor a youth outing, and people might believe the expedition is a Boy Scout excursion when it isn't, he said.
Regardless of who did it, Godfrey is certain that the action "does not reflect the principles that Scouting promotes or teaches."
Even if the boys did not deliberately destroy dinosaur footprints, he said, "it ought to serve as a warning to our leaders, to always be aware of their surroundings and conscious of the conduct of their youth."