By Linda Wommack
Ancient dinosaur prints and fossils have been found in the area known as Dinosaur Ridge for hundreds of years. In 1975, Dinosaur Ridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The following year the adjacent land, including the historic 1861 Rooney Ranch, was certified as a Jefferson County Landmark. In 2002, Jefferson County deemed more of the land as Open Space. Fast forward to 2006 when particular parcels of the land was zoned for commercial development. That’s when businesses and Jefferson County citizens began a near decade long fight.
On Jan. 31, in a narrow 2-1 vote, Jefferson County Commissioners modified the zoning to only a portion of the adjacent land. One of the many citizens advocating for the commercial rezoning, Linnea Hauser, remarked, “Nobody thought we could do it. And we did it.” Local resident, Paula Bard, was pleased with the vote and said: “This valley is a gem. Many in the county seem like it’s in a race to pave every square inch and turn it into Wadsworth Boulevard.”
Perhaps fortuitously, the “Friends of Dinosaur Ridge” was formed in 1989, specifically to address concerns regarding preservation of the site and to protect the nationally designated historic area. In 1994, the group renovated the Rooney Ranch house to create a visitor center for the Dinosaur Ridge National Park, which had been designated as the Morrison Fossil Area National Landmark in 1973. The visitor center has a hands-on exhibit of dinosaurs and murals depicting the era.
Today, shuttle buses take visitors to the Ridge for a tour of the dinosaur tracks. The historic Rooney barn plays host to a variety of educational exhibits. Dinosaur Ridge serves over 100,000 visitors annually.
With such a popular tourist attraction and the added benefit of national and state historic status, let us hope the Jan. 31 ruling by the county commissioners ensures the historic and pristine area of Jefferson Open Space.