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Dinosaur Gardens

By Cheryl Peterson
Anyone traveling on US-23 along the northeastern coast of Lake Huron is bound to notice the towering concrete figure of Jesus Christ cradling the earth in the palm of his hand. Several feet behind him a life sized brontosaurus is situated near the Devil River.

Curious travelers who stop to take a look around will find quite a bit to see and explore in Dinosaur Gardens Prehistorical Zoo. Nature lovers, dinosaur enthusiasts, those who appreciate artistic craftsmanship and visitors looking for something unique to explore will be happy in this 40 acre park that boasts more than 25 varieties of native Michigan trees. The Devil River wanders through the park and the cool shade of towering trees beckon on hot summer days.

Those who enter the tree filled grounds and tour the three quarters of a mile barrier-free trail will see reproductions of over 25 prehistoric birds and animals from the huge brontosaurus to a vicious velociraptor. Each dinosaur exhibit has a plaque that shares the attributes of the figure. There is also an 18 hole mini "dino-golf" course, gift shop and snack bar.

Frank and Judy McCourt own Dinosaur Gardens and Frank is available to talk about the unique park that melds history and art. "This is an art exhibit," McCourt said as he gave a tour of the gardens. "He explained that artist Paul Domke opened the park in the late 1930s. He made all of the figures-the first was the brontosaurus. He started with a steel frame, used heavy wire mesh to shape the figures and to hold a concrete mixture to the frame. Domke used a trowel and mud box to hand mix a formula that he developed. He was a fundamentalist Lutheran, McCourt explained, so the figure of Christ and the dinosaurs co-exist as effortlessly today as they did 50 years ago.
All of the figures, which are hollow, have withstood the elements of northern Michigan over the years, with very little deterioration. McCort, who worked for Domke when he was a young man, explained, "He purchased this (land) because of the combination of swamp land and ridge because that's where he imagined that the dinosaurs would have existed." Domke worked by himself for years creating the figures and also had the help of three nephews. McCourt also helped build the caveman exhibit in 1959-1960.
His parents, Frank and Wilma McCourt purchased the park in 1964 and operated it for more than 20 years. Frank Sr. died in 1982 and the property passed through several owners until 1987 when McCourt purchased it. He spent a lot of time making improvements to the property and bringing the figures back to their original stateliness. Regular re-painting is required and McCort has to make repairs periodically due to vandalism.

Twenty to thirty thousand people visit Dinosaur Gardens each year. McCourt is as proud of Dinosaur Gardens as he is the many other accomplishments in his life. He is the athletic director and basketball coach at Alpena Community College and business entrepreneur.

Located 10 miles south of Alpena in Ossineke, Dinosaur Gardens is open seven days a week Memorial Day through Labor Day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. After Labor Day it's weekends only from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and closes for the season on September 30. For more information call toll free (877) 823-2408 or (989) 471-5477 or visit the Web site

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Cheryl L. Peterson, Publisher & Editor : 
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