Construction equipment causes accidental damage to dinosaur tracks in Utah

By Paige HaeffeleApril 13, 2022

Photo Credit: Bureau of Land Management - Moab and Canyon Country Facebook Page

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Utah acknowledged there was “some damage” done to ancient dinosaur tracks during a recent construction project at the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite in Moab.

According to media reports, workers drove a backhoe and other construction vehicles over parts of the site that contained tracks, in some cases causing damage.

One of the most significant paleontological sites in the U.S., tracks and fossils in Mill Canyon date back roughly 112 million years and the site contains more than 200 tracks and traces of at least 10 different animals from the Early Cretaceous period.

After the prints’ initial discovery in 2009, BLM designated the area as a public site and built a raised wooden boardwalk over the prints in 2013 so visitors could view them without disturbance, Salt Lake Tribune’s Brian Maffly reported.

According to the news source, the initial wooden boardwalk had begun to warp in 2021, and BLM was given the job to replace it by constructing an elevated concrete path supported by a metal platform.

“Small microfractures may well have formed because of the weight of the machinery on the track-bearing surface. As such, natural degradation may be accelerated in these areas in the future,” BLM paleontologist Brent H. Breithaupt was quoted.

Prior to starting construction, BLM assured the tracks would be protected by flagging and outlining fragile areas and conducting frequent inspections throughout the project, Deseret News reported.

“Unfortunately, little can be done to restore broken or eroded tracks left exposed,” Breithaupt concluded in an assessment.

NPR reported the Bureau of Land Management issued a statement on its website after the publication of the assessment on Wednesday, saying it was committed to protecting fossils on public lands and that the replacement of the boardwalk was necessary to protect and manage the tracksite.

“To ensure this does not happen again, we will follow the recommendations in the assessment, seek public input, and work with the paleontology community as we collectively move forward on constructing boardwalks at the interpretive site,” the statement read.

A revised plan to rebuild the viewing boardwalk - including consultation from a paleontologist - is expected be completed this summer, BLM officials told the Salt Lake Tribune.

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