A $73 million dinosaur fossil park and museum will be built in New Jersey. The 44,000-square-foot facility will be located on a former quarry in Mantua Township where marine and terrestrial fossils dating back 66 million years have been found.
The Gloucester County school laid the groundbreaking at the site of a prehistoric treasure trove of relics just a few miles from its Glassboro campus.
Kenneth Lacovara, Dean of the school of Earth & Environment and Director of the Jean & Ric Edelman Fossil Park highlighted in a statement the educational importance of the museum. “We are building a museum like no other, on a fossil site of global importance that will connect visitors to the ancient past and to Rowan University.”
According to a report by Bill Duhart from nj.com, the planned exhibits will include a recreated Dryptosaurus, the first discovered tyrannosaur, which was found a mile from the Fossil Park site in 1866, and a 53-foot mosasaur, like one discovered at the fossil park site.
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The Edelmans, Rowan alumni, “gave $25 million to develop it as a unique research ecosystem that supports scientific, undergraduate and ‘citizen science’ opportunities,” a school statement said. “Pre-pandemic, the park hosted thousands of visitors per year, from school kids on bus trips to business people and community leaders, all of whom are drawn to the prospect of finding genuine, Late Cretaceous-era, fossils.”
A unique park
Once completed, site visitors will be able to dig in areas of lesser significance, but still lined with fossils of prehistoric finds. They will also have the opportunity to keep many of the fossils found. They must also sign a waiver allowing the university to claim any finds of historical significance. Some of the discoveries, however, will be kept for further research.
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Rowan University stated that more than 50,000 marine and terrestrial fossils have been cataloged. Despite the small area explored, a few hundred square meters of the 65-acre site, the discoveries have been numerous and varied, from reptilian mosasaurs to sea turtles, sharks, bony fish, coral and clams.
An economic impact study of the fossil park’s construction predicts that an estimated 200,000 or more fossil hunters will visit the park and museum each year, producing more than $300 million in economic activity over a 10-year period after its planned opening in 2023.
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The fossil park is on the site of a former industrial sand pit. Archeologists have already turned up a fossil of the largest prehistoric crocodile ever found. A researcher’s team, led by Lacovara, expect to turn up more important finds.
The university explained that New Jersey was once underwater on prehistoric Earth and the fossils on site are buried in sand as opposed to being encased in rock. This characteristic is one of the things that make the fossil park unique. Fossilized remains of several late Cretaceous-era dinosaurs and reptiles have been found along a stretch of what used to be a shallow marine environment from Atlantic Highlands in Monmouth County, through Middlesex, Mercer, Burlington and Gloucester down to Salem County and present-day Delaware.