By Jennifer Speer
One of the amazing parts of the evolution of our entire planet is the discovery and proof of dinosaurs. Their giant forms lumbering across the land must have been majestic and it not only speaks of the amazing progression of nature throughout time, but also of our intelligence and skill as humans to have found these great beings and to have excavated and reproduced them as a means of education and tribute to our history over the years. From movies to documentaries, to museums, preserved footprints, sculptures, and parks — these great beautiful creatures are and should be honored and respected as monuments of the land … not as a joke.
In a land of 11,000 lakes, there are parks in Michigan’s history that used to be part of America’s tourist glory; and could be again, with the right love and attention. Filled with true-to-life meticulously hand-painted dinosaurs of all types, and the flora and fauna that added to the special tour, is the Prehistoric Forest in the Irish Hills in Cambridge, Michigan. Created in the ‘60s from a collaboration between two sculpture artists, these vintage works of art have been treated recently like a place for reckless destruction and disrespect for people’s land and property.
The people of the county of Cambridge respect and protect their curious Americana mascots in the forest, which opened in 1963, and featured 63 animatronic dinosaurs, and even a volcano that spewed out smoke. There was a water slide and a maze and a train that would take you through the park, and you could pose with the sculptures or ride a tram and “shoot” at the t-rex as you went by, which caused a shuddering roar in response. Since its closure in 1999, some of the features have been sold, but sadly, some of the dinosaurs have been purposefully destroyed. Apparently it had become somewhat of a tradition when a particular track meet came to town, and whether it was a symbolic gesture from a rival school or plain old ignorance, they ignored the “no trespassing” signs and went on to destroy some of the gentle giants with glee. Cambridge Township Police Chief Larry Wibbeler said the students were at Michigan International Speedway for a statewide cross country final, and after experiencing break-ins at the park for three years running, they were anticipating the meet as it is believed to be some sort of “right of passage” for neighboring schools.
Recently the property had changed hands, and unbeknownst to the vandals, surveillance cameras — the kind that outdoors enthusiasts use to capture images of wildlife — were installed around the park. Photos showed that the trespassers included two males who were balding, which is how they realized this was not only children messing around, but children led to destroy by adults. It wasn’t just a handful of kids either … in all, thirteen high school students and two adults, ages 44 and 46, were ticketed with charges of vandalism and larceny following the Nov. 3, 2012 break-in. Those that pled guilty paid a $375 trespassing fine, but those that pled not guilty were to be in court by Jan. 17. The damages are still being assessed and the court will decide what, if any, restitution should be paid.
It is important to recognize this park as a work of art and our nation’s history, but I would like to also recognize that these were not just bored kids with nothing to do. These were school leaders and athletes, and it’s indicative of a bigger problem going on in society … with our youth, parenting, and a lack of respect for people and property in general.
This was not just a deliberate pit stop from some of the star members of a track team, and students with high grade point averages and potential college scholarships, that ignored the laws, but honor roll students led by adults. Two fathers led these “leaders of the next generation” to break into a visibly marked and protected area that is a special part of Cambridge’s history, and proceed to literally take the heads off of some of the sculptures.
Perhaps not all of the kids were involved in the destruction, and perhaps you could even say they were swayed by peer pressure from the team stars to join in … but every person has free will, and all of these kids were being led by adults they respected to break the law and destroy “for fun.”
It’s said that when the police drove up to their town to deliver the relatively insignificant charges and tickets in relation to the amount of law breaking they did, one of the “adults” scolded them for using tax dollars on the gas.
Now, on top of teaching them that breaking and entering and destruction of property is apparently an adrenaline filled joy-ride and a fun father- son weekend activity, this person is teaching them that rather than use your leadership potential to lead others to do the right thing, it’s OK to abuse that power because you can probably get away with it. Not to mention absolving yourself of any responsibility by scolding the authorities for ticketing you.
I’m flabbergasted that someone who could be a business owner or involved in education on any level — from attending track meets to teaching customer service skills to your staff — would even consider this behavior, much less carry it out with children in tow.
However, let’s just say he had a momentary lapse of reason and this wasn’t premeditated (which it obviously had to have been.) You would think he’d be embarrassed and remorseful, making apologetic statements to the school district, land owner, the town of Cambridge, the students he led into law breaking and ultimately court, and the people that trust him to have respect for other people’s property.
What if this is the kind of person that is involved in the construction of your property or on the town board somehow … would you trust them to build it with care? Would you trust them to care about your current property and not destroy anything on it? I would think it would give people considerable pause.
Currently, the owners of the dinosaurs and the land aren’t sure what the future holds, but they do see a future that holds more sacred these great beasts and their place in our national guidebooks, and in the stunning state of Michigan’s history. They see a future that is one of joy and respect and admiration, and they don’t want people to look at the dinosaurs as their own personal conquest. They sincerely thank the people of Cambridge for their protection of and love for these giant old town mascots, and they hope that not only will that energy continue but will spread to neighboring towns that will also come to love and respect the one-of-a-kind work and history there. For now, they have heard that some of the property has been recovered and the full cost of damages is still being assessed. In the meantime, I hope that the parents of the kids that were involved read this article and really think about not only how they’ve acted, but how they’ve reacted.
And given that these kids are expected to be representatives of their own schools and towns when they visit in a meet of any kind, they should at the very least have to perform some kind of community service, in addition to a fine, so that they understand that no matter how fast you run, you can’t outrun responsibility.