Prince George\’s Dinosaur Park
I recently discovered that there was a dinosaur park in Maryland. I was surprised by this discovery, as I never knew there was any dinosaur park in the Mid-Atlantic region. Once my curiosity was piqued, I had to investigate further. It turns out that this the most productive fossil quarry east of the Mississippi river. The site has been producing finds for years and is considered an outside laboratory. I was so excited to learn about this place.
Located in Laurel, Maryland, the Prince George county site is a small park with limited open hours. Presently the park has operating hours on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of every month. It\’s obvious I\’m going to this park, right? I borrowed a spare kid from my friend, grabbed my mom, and packed everyone into the car to head south on an amazingly beautiful September weekend.
I investigated the site on the net prior to arriving. I read that the dino park had fossil exhibits and displays, so I naturally assumed there was a physical building museum on site. There is not. When I first pulled up I was surprised to find myself in a commercial area. I expected to find the fossil hunting area in the middle of a large field.
The Dinosaur Park is an itty-bitty park surrounded by a black fence in the middle of a commercial district. It is at the end of a cul-du-sac driveway. Imagine something less Jurassic World and more McDonald\’s playground.
We made our way into the park. It was crowded with parents and their kids enjoying the bright, warm sunshine. There was a small playground with a cement dinosaur skeleton in the middle. About a dozen kids scrambling over it, on it, under it, and around it. It was an extremely popular dino!
I found the guest services table and registered us to join the second group entering the park, and then patiently waited our turn to enter.
Let the hunt begin!
The fossil hunting area is a small, crumbly hill. At this hour they only had a portion of the hill open for searching, and that portion was literally swarming with little kids. It seems and extremely child friendly event. I could see all of the volunteers – wearing orange vests – helping kids and parents alike identify their found items.
We entered the gated region and stood around a presentation table where we received a very comprehensive introductory explanation of the plants and animals that roamed this region a long, long time ago. A young gentleman was demonstrating a mix of actual fossils and replicas, naming each animal and plant carefully and pointing to an accurate painting behind him. I found where the exhibits and displays are located!
We learned about Maryland\’s state dinosaur, Astrodon jonstoni. We also learned that the most common fossil found is lignite (carbonized plant fossils) which looks like small charcoal chunks, and orange ironstone rocks. While I was there, a tiny little boy ran up with a fossil pinecone in his hand. His name was registered with the fossil and his photograph was taken to be placed on their Facebook page. I was so happy for him – and he was beaming with pride.
The hill can be a bit difficult to climb or stand upon as the ground is loose and can shift underfoot. The kids scamper about without a problem. I found a spot that was a bit more steady and foot and started to hunt
You can\’t dig for fossils at this site – it is all surface hunting. So the smallest hands have the greatest advantage. They\’re closer to the ground and with better eye sight. So they could spot things faster than I could – and were quicker to grab it. After a while, I just stood by and held all the fossil items Noah found.
After a while, he took me and my handful of treasure over to an orange vest volunteer and asked to have his fossils identified. So I stood there as they patiently examined all the pieces I carried.
A very special fossil
I listened as he rattled off our loot: \”This is lignite. This, too. More lignite. This is ironstone, and I think it has a plant impression. This is quartz. And this is rabbit poop.\”
Rabbit poop? How long – EXACTLY – what I carrying rabbit poop around?
That\’s not the worst of it. There was more than one rabbit poop in my hand!
And what did Noah say about finding and collecting rabbit poop and dropping them into my hand? \”Well. That sucks.\” Understatement.
We received permission to keep our found treasures and take them home, so I slipped the small items into plastic baggies and went back searching. This time more cautious about what was placed in my hand.
We spent several hours searching for fossils. I never found a pine cone, despite my best efforts. But we did find some nice ironstone with impressions – and we were given permission to bring those stones home.
All in all, it was a fun day out and a big adventure for Noah.
Things to know before you go:
- The park is open to all of the elements: sun and rain alike. Dress for exposure
- There are bathrooms on site, which are only open during operating hours
- Wear closed shoes / boot – the ground is rough
- Adults may consider bringing padded items to kneel upon or wear knee pads
- Pack baggies to place you treasures into (be sure to have volunteers check your items)
- Bring plenty of water
- There is little shade available on site, even if you are not hunting. They have seating outside – but no coverage.
Fossil preparation for kids
When we got home, we had several tiny pieces of lignite that we wanted to give to Noah\’s siblings. The lignite is brittle and can act like charcoal. So I sealed these small pieces in clear nail polish. I wanted to make them touchable by little fingers and not worry about losing bits of the lignite or getting their fingers dirty. Now all the kids can see and touch the plant fossils more readily, and handle the ironstone to \’find\’ fossil impressions. It\’s a great way to let kids learn first-hand how fossils are formed, found, and shown.
When we got home that day, Noah was proudly cleaning and examining his finds. Sites like the Dinosaur Park make the magical process of fossil hunting, science, and history a hands-on experience.