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What's next for the damaged dinosaur tracks near Moab? Feds pondering new boardwalk

A screenshot from a video given to the Deseret News by the Utah Friends of Paleontology shows a backhoe and the torn-up boardwalk in Mill Canyon outside of Moab.

A screenshot from a video given to the Deseret News by the Utah Friends of Paleontology shows a backhoe and the torn-up boardwalk in Mill Canyon outside of Moab. (Utah Friends of Paleontology)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

MOAB — About five months after one of its own construction engineers accidentally destroyed several ancient dinosaur tracks at Mill Canyon outside Moab, the Bureau of Land Management indicates it wants to move forward on installing a new walkway at the site.

The federal agency is seeking public input on the environmental assessment to install a walkway to replace the aging infrastructure at the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite, which is 15 miles north of Moab in Grand County.

What happened: In late January, local residents and paleontology enthusiasts noticed the heavy construction equipment parked at the site and observed the damage, sparking an uproar.

The Moab Field Office requested a BLM regional paleontologist visit the site in early February to conduct a paleontological assessment with recommendations for the agency to move forward. That assessment can be found on the BLM website.

"The maintenance and restoration of these interpretive walkways are necessary to properly protect and manage the paleontological resources at this important site," said BLM Moab Field Manager Nicollee Gaddis-Wyatt. "We are committed to meaningful public engagement on this project moving forward."

Jim Kirkland, the state paleontologist with the Utah Geological Survey, told the Deseret News at the time that no one in the scientific community was aware of the work being done, and there should have been a paleontologist on site to guide the construction efforts.

Why a boardwalk? The boardwalk replacement project is necessary, according to the agency, to provide a safe and durable walking surface so the public can continue to enjoy this paleontological resource by not treading directly on the tracks.

The BLM said the new surface would also improve safety from the previous wooden boardwalk that warped and presented a serious tripping hazard. Work of any type would proceed only in the presence of a qualified paleontologist authorized to oversee the project, the agency said, adding at a BLM paleontologist from the Paria River District has also surveyed the site, reviewed the environmental assessment and helped develop the proposed action.

What's there: The site includes tracks of at least 10 specimens of dinosaurs and is considered No. 7 out of the top dinosaur track sites in the country. The BLM says the track site includes approximately 112-million-year-old Early Cretaceous dinosaur footprints.

First reported in 2009, the site contains more than 200 tracks and traces that represent at least 10 different types of animals, including non-avian theropods, sauropods, ornithopods, ankylosaurs, birds and crocodiles. These well-preserved trace fossils preserve the movements and activities of a unique and diverse Mesozoic fauna.

The BLM subsequently released details that damage to tracks by a backhoe happened in the construction site area, and not at the interpretive site that hosted the boardwalk and information on the prints.

What's next in the process: Comments will be accepted by letter or via the BLM's website until July 26.

Be aware that the most useful comments are specific and contain new technical or scientific information relevant to the proposed action. Comments which contain only opinions or preferences will not receive a formal response, but these may be considered in the BLM decision-making process. Reference "Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite" when submitting comments.

People can mail the Bureau of Land Management, 82 Dogwood Avenue, Moab, Utah 84532 or submit online comments at the BLM's planning website.

Comments are available for the public to review. For additional information, contact the BLM Moab Field Office at BLM_UT_MB_Comments@blm.gov or 435-259-2100.

Photos of the tracksite can be found on the BLM Utah Flickr website. The site remains closed to the public while the project gets underway.

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