Pact could be near on cover for dinosaur tracks

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Ownership, maintenance issues reportedly settled

By Emile Hallez

More than 60 million years ago, a group of Iguanodons trekked across a shoreline in what is now Dakota Ridge, leaving distinct trails that became fossilized in delicate sandstone.

Only 81 years have passed since a construction crew broke ground on West Alameda Parkway and discovered the large footprints. And it’s been just 22 years since Friends of Dinosaur Ridge began working to preserve the tracks.
But the time it will take for the tracks to erode completely could be exponentially faster, cautions the organization, which has for more than a year been unsuccessfully pressing Jefferson County to allow a $2 million protective cover to be installed over the track site.
Sandstone is subject to erosion. Following every freeze and thaw, water penetrates a layer of mudstone below, causing the overlaying sandstone to crack and slide down the hill.
A track cover is the most permanent solution, the group contends, though other methods of preservation have been attempted. Minimal success has been seen using sealants and by attempting to secure fragile layers of sandstone with metal straps.
Jeffco has cited various reasons for its resistance to the track cover, including a disdain for the first-generation design’s visual appeal, an obtrusive structure officials said went against the county’s mountain-backdrop program.
Further, and perhaps more importantly, the ownership and maintenance responsibilities for the small stretch of Alameda along which the cover would be built were uncertain. Numerous documents, including a memorandum of understanding among Jeffco, Lakewood, the Colorado Department of Transportation and other parties, was unclear as to which government body owned the right of way near the tracks.
Last week, however, the county indicated that a new agreement was complete, awaiting only a final signature from CDOT. Though the city and county of Denver technically owned the right of way, it was conveyed to Jeffco in August 2008.
Talks with the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge would soon follow, officials said.
“(Completing) the new MOU establishes today’s ownership and today’s maintenance responsibilities,” assistant county administrator Kate Newman said. “Then, we’ll be able to move forward with the Friends.”
Though the track cover issue has generated national media coverage and considerable public criticism, of more immediate concern to the Friends is renewal of the group’s lease, executive director Joe Tempel said.
While the Dinosaur Ridge Visitor Center is on Jefferson County land, the Friends sublet the plot from the town of Morrison, which currently holds the primary lease.
The Friends’ 25-year lease expires in 2018, after which staff and board members said the group’s future is uncertain. Though the county is approving a revision to the current lease, it is apparently averse to granting a new one. Commissioners have cited a desire to leave the decision in the hands of their successors, Tempel said.
“We would never get a lease with thinking like that,” Tempel said. “That was kind of screwball thinking that we let roll, because we’re more concerned with getting our current lease revised.”
Regarding the track cover, Tempel said the group is hesitant to formally raise the matter with the county. Nonetheless, the Friends have paid architectural and engineering firms to complete several designs, the newest of which Tempel said is far less obtrusive than the initial proposal.
The new incarnation, which has a semi-transparent roof, would be barely noticeable from C-470, Tempel said, noting that Alameda itself is much more visible. The tracks themselves, a collection of more than 300 footprints highlighted with charcoal, are nearly impossible to spot from the highway.
“We’re just building something over the roadway scar,” he said. “It just happens to have some famous dinosaur tracks (under) it.”

Contact Emile Hallez Williams at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22.