Story by Karen Evenden
GIBBONS, ALBERTA — If you happened to look out of your window when driving along Highway 28, just 25 minutes north of Edmonton, and you thought you saw a long-necked animal peering above the tree line, don’t worry, you are not imagining things. What you saw in fact was a dinosaur, an Apatosaurus to be more specific.
You just drove by Jurassic Forest, an exciting new attraction that transports the visitor back in time to the Cretaceous, Jurassic and Triassic periods, over 65 million years ago.
The forest is home to a number of dinosaurs, all of which were carefully crafted to be as historically accurate and as realistic as possible; indeed coming across a life-size carnivore towering four metres with many sharp teeth can be quite convincing!
Jurassic Forest was created just over two years ago by a group of local investors who wanted to build an attraction that was entertaining but also educational.
The forest spans more than 45 acres and currently houses 47 animatronic dinosaurs that move and roar, screech or squawk convincingly. Animatronic figures are powered by pneumatics (compressed air), hydraulics (pressurized oil), or by electrical means. A self-guided tour takes the visitor around two trails, each one kilometre in length, through old and new forest areas with a different exhibit around each corner. There are interpretive signs at each exhibit describing the dinosaur’s size, habitat and history. There are also many interpreters along the trails, willing to supply additional information.
During my tour I was lucky enough to be accompanied by resident palaeontologist Kristina Barclay. Barclay has a Bachelor’s degree in paleontology from the University of Alberta and is happy to be working in an environment where she not only gets to view examples of her favourite passion on a daily basis but is also part of the team that is working on expanding the thriving attraction.
Barclay explains that the forest is constantly evolving, not only with the growing influx of visitors but also with the ongoing research in paleontology. “Dinosaur bones are unearthed on a regular basis and new evidence comes to light with each discovery,” says Barclay. “For example, we are now aware that many of the dinosaurs were actually covered in feathers, a finding that was only recently made.”
Jurassic Forest is only too happy to stay on top of finds like these. Greg Suess, manager of Jurassic Forest, says that accuracy of the exhibits is extremely important to the venue. “We want to provide exceptional entertainment for our visitors, but our focus is on the learning experience,” says Suess. “Not a single child, adult or senior will leave here without learning something about dinosaurs.”
WHERE DINOSAURS STILL ROAM
Learning may be the focus, but the owners have also taken great pride in creating a venue that looks as good as the product its offering. The boardwalks are wheelchair accessible; the playground consists of dinosaur related structures and all of the buildings including the gift store and the Cretaceous Concession booth are designed to look natural and complement the environment. The site also utilises local products wherever possible and takes pride in supporting its community.
I asked Suess what is next on the agenda for the forest. “The current plan is to expand on and improve what we already have” he explained. “Further walkways are already being built and there will be some new additions to the family over the next one to two years.” The type of additions though will not be revealed – after all, a new species of dinosaur could be discovered anytime. Whatever happens though, you can be sure that Jurassic Forest will hunt down the information!
MORE ABOUT JURASSIC FOREST
Location: Jurassic Forest is located 3 km north of the town of Gibbons, Alberta and approximately 25 minutes drive from Edmonton.
Address: Township Road 564 Gibbons, AB
Contact: Telephone, 780-470-244; website: www.jurassicforest.com
Hours of Operation: The attraction is open 9 am-7 pm from April until October.
Admission Prices: $14 per adult, $10 per senior/youth and $8 per child. Family passes are available for $40 for 2 adults and 2 children. Also, wheelchair and stroller rentals are available for $5.
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