In the mid-1960s, while excavating for the construction of a new state government building in central Connecticut, workers uncovered two thousand fossilized dinosaur footprints preserved in sandstone. Two years later, a geodesic dome had been constructed over many of the tracks, and Dinosaur State Park opened in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, just south of Hartford.
Today, visitors can see the ancient footprints up close while inside the 55,000m square foot Exhibit Center. Over 500 of the tracks are preserved under the museum dome. Another 1500 have been reburied for preservation and possible future display and study.
Dinosaur State Park’s Exhibit Center also features life-sized dioramas from both the Triassic and Jurrassic periods, showing visitors what the area would have looked like during the period, over 200 million years ago, when giant creatures left these footprints in the sand.
Interactive displays and narrated slide shows can also be viewed within the center, which is open Tuesdays through Sundays year round.
Scientists are not sure exactly which kind of dinosaur left the tracks that run through the area. They are similar to those of the Dilophosaurus, so it is surmised that the dinosaurs whose footprints have been preserved at the state park were also meat-eating creatures of roughly the same size and shape. The tracks are spaced 3.5 to 4.5 feet apart and vary in length from 10 to 16 inches.
Other fossilized tracks found in the region are also on display – including those of the Otozoum, a four-toed dinosaur whose skin impressions can be clearly seen in the fossil.
Dinosaurs were once plentiful in this part of what is now Connecticut, and the sandstone found here was particularly good at preserving their footprints. In 2006, almost exactly 40 years after the initial discovery that led to the state park, construction workers building a health care facility across the street from the park found even more footprints as they were excavating.
On the grounds around the Exhibit Center, Dinosaur State Park offers two miles of nature trails. State park officials have attempted to recreate as many of the plants from the age of dinosaurs as possible. Over 200 varieties of conifers and ferns that scientists have confirmed through fossil records as having flourished locally during the periods when the nearby dinosaur tracks were first made thrive along these trails.
Dinosaur state park is an interesting day trip for the whole family. Kids especially will love the chance to experience the dramatically-lit Exhibit Center and its life-sized portrayal of the dinosaurs that once walked right through this park, or the chance (from May to October) to make plaster casts of actual dinosaur footprints.
Dinosaur State Park is located at 400 West Street in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, just off Interstate 91. A nominal admission fee is charged.