Dinosaur Footprint
This is a representational image showing a dinosaur footprint is seen in the Red Fleet State Park, Utah. Utah State Parks

In an example of how someone can do something very problematic and even illegal without having any intention or even realization of wrongdoing, some tourists to Red Fleet State Park in Utah have been dislodging ancient dinosaur footprints and throwing them into the park’s reservoir. Needless to say, park officials are concerned and have appealed to everyone visiting the park to not disturb any rocks at the dinosaur trackway in the park.

“It is illegal to displace rocks that contain the tracks. Disturbing them like this is an act of vandalism. … Some of the tracks are very distinct to the layperson but just as many are not. That is why it is important to not disturb any rocks at the dinosaur trackway,” park manager Josh Hansen said in a statement on the park’s website.

It seems like this behavior by tourists has been going on for a while, but it happened seldom enough for the officials to not be worried. However, the problem has become more widespread in the last six months, with an estimated 10 dinosaur tracks destroyed in that time. Some of those prints were about 200 million years old. The park is putting up signs, in addition to the existing ones, in the areas near the tracks to warn visitors not to remove any rocks from the site.

“Utah State Parks believes education can play a big part in stopping this kind of behavior. To help combat it, we are asking everyone to spread the word. Please, do not throw any rocks in the dinosaur track area at Red Fleet State Park. Help us keep the area preserved and beautiful for visitors both tomorrow and for generations to come,” the park said in the statement.

Many of the dinosaur footprints found in Red Fleet State Park, preserved in sandstone, likely belong to Dilophosaurus, an early theropod dinosaur that lived in the Early Jurassic epoch. It grew up to about seven meters (23 feet) in length, and weighed about 400 kilograms. Later theropods were much bigger, but the members of the genus Dilophosaurus were among the largest predators at their time. The area was possibly a muddy swamp or bog in the Early Jurassic.

The track imprints, while not actual fossils, are considered as such under Utah law. Given their physical nature, they can get permanently damaged if they stay in the water for too long. Some even shatter on hitting the water surface. However, some of them, those that sink intact to the bottom, can be saved by divers if identified quickly enough.

“It’s become quite a big problem. They’re just looking to throw rocks off the side. What they don’t realize is these rocks they’re picking up, they’re covered in dinosaur tracks,” Utah State Parks spokesman Devan Chavez told the Salt Lake Tribune.

Hansen, who took over as the park’s manager in March, and his team are going to be more vigilant now, and would be forced to charge violators with felony if the problem doesn’t stop.