Dinosaur Park takes visitors back to when prehistoric creatures roamed the earth


T-Rex clearly has attitude. And it’s not just the piped-in roars emanating from the bushes near his clawed feet. He gnashes his sharp white teeth and blinks his leathery eyelids. Those brave enough to approach this 13-foot carnivore can see his chest slowly rise and fall with each breath. 

A Tyrannosaurus is photographed at the Field Station Dinosaur Park in Secaucus on Thursday, May 10, 2012 [Credit: Lauren Casselberry]

Field Station: Dinosaurs, New Jersey’s own version of Jurassic Park, opens today, taking visitors on a journey to encounter 30 life-size, robotic prehistoric creatures. The attraction is set in the leafy, winding paths of Secaucus’ Laurel Hill Park – once home to a quarry, an insane asylum and tuberculosis sanatorium, and now designed to conjure the misty milieu of a dinosaur habitat. 

The park is the dream project of Guy Gsell, the park’s chief executive producer and a Bloomfield entrepreneur, who drew from his past experiences managing and directing theater – both adult and children’s. “Dinosaurs don’t give you a hard time the way actors do,” he said. Most recently he served as director of exhibits at Discovery Times Square. While there, he had to figure out how to float a 25-foot, 7-ton statue of the Egyptian god Anubis around New York Harbor. 

That experience came in handy when he had to arrange to transport his 90-foot Argentinosaurus into the Secaucus park. The largest animatronic dinosaur in the world, it can be spotted from the Empire State Building. But there’s no need to fear this plant-eating behemoth. It allows curious visitors to pet its tail, which it slowly whips over a fence and above their heads. 

A dinosaur lover since seeing his first exhibit at the 1965 World’s Fair, Gsell believes kids are enthralled by these majestic creatures because the creatures really existed. “When kids are at the age when they learn that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny don’t exist, they’re waiting for the next shoe to fall,” he said. But with dinosaurs, “it’s one thing spectacular that they can still believe in.” 

The park’s 90-foot animatronic Argentinosaurus can be seen from the Empire State Building [Credit: NorthJersey]

Most of the dinosaurs were manufactured in Zigong, a city in southwest China known for its animatronics. “We shopped everywhere for dinosaurs. But the guys in China were very willing to work with us and our artists to make them look like how we want,” said Gsell. Paleontologists from the New Jersey State Museum consulted on the project to ensure authenticity. 

Adding to the immersive experience, visitors entering the park receive scientific expedition “credentials” that they can stamp throughout the journey, which takes about two hours. Next to each dinosaur is a glass case – like a trail head at a state park – that displays a collage of pinned-up notes and photos, mimicking a paleontologist’s field notes. “It’s accessible to kids, not printed like a museum,” said Gsell. “We want the kids to go home and create their own field notes.” 

Most of the dinosaurs stand behind a low wooden fence. They vary in ability levels. Some can only blink and turn their heads. Most make noises, sounding like everything from a barking seal to a mooing cow. At the very end of the exhibit is a T-Rex outfitted with a computer that gives it the ability to interact with visitors. “He follows movement and gets nervous when a big crowd comes around,” said Gsell. 

Before returning to 21st-century suburbia, visitors enter a large mud-splattered tent where they will be able to buy dinosaur souvenirs. “Old army tents just say adventure,” Gsell said. 

Author: Sachi Fujimori | Source: North Jersey News [May 26, 2012]