Science | April 5, 2022 5:15 am

Boardwalk Construction Permanently Damaged Dinosaur Tracks

This was not the desired effect

Dinosaur bones
Fossilized dinosaur bone embedded in sandstone in the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Bone Trail near Moab, Utah.
Jon G. Fuller/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

As a rule of thumb, a space that attracts a lot of tourists should not be modified so as to potentially destroy the thing they’re coming to see. This should be obvious, and yet it isn’t — some may recall the infamous “Monkey Christ” painting restoration that took place a decade ago.

Now, a popular tourist destination in Utah is dealing with the aftermath of an incident that permanently damaged some objects that managed to survive over a hundred million years. But when it comes to dinosaur tracks, apparently they can only withstand so much — and construction work did what time could not.

The dinosaur tracks at Mill Canyon are relatively unique among such historic sites. A passage on the Utah Travel Industry’s website now reads much more ominously: “[T]here are no guards or fences here. You, the visitor, are the protector of this valuable resource. It is illegal to remove, deface, or destroy improvements, rocks, and fossils.”

Turns out it wasn’t the visitors who were a cause for alarm. As The Guardian reports, the damage to a small number of tracks took place when a construction crew arrived to put a boardwalk into place. A Bureau of Land Management report cites both construction equipment and people walking as having contributed to the damage.

Thankfully, the damage was caught before it could spread — but there’s still something alarming about footprints that have lasted that long being damaged in this manner. The B.L.M. is currently looking into whether or not the boardwalk project can proceed in a way that won’t potentially damage the fossils nearby.