Despite the steady rain, the Dilophosaurus looked as fierce as ever, opening it jaws lined with sharp teeth, as local school kids from Secaucus and Hoboken ventured out to ‘Field Station: Dinosaurs’ on June 4. Second, third, and fifth graders from Huber Street Elementary School and fourth graders from Elysian Charter School in Hoboken spent the day in ponchos and underneath umbrellas to explore a .75 mile trail inhabited by 31 animatronic dinosaurs. Along the way, the students took in larger-than-life sights, roaring sounds, and lessons about creatures that once roamed the area.
“Field Station: Dinosaurs,” located adjacent to Laurel Hill Park in Secaucus, has transformed over 20 acres of land and taken visitors back in time to the prehistoric age. It opened over Memorial Day weekend and has since seen a steady stream of visitors on the weekend and school groups during the week.
The park creators left the surrounding volcanic and indigenous rocks, wetlands, and flora largely untouched to give life to a habitat that could have existed 200 million years ago.
“They are just so fascinating and they are big!” – Emily Gasser
Gsell has produced educationally-themed theater, live events, and exhibits in a career that spans thirty years. Gsell had led a workshop on aviation and dinosaurs that day. He said that the workshops, games, and activities introduce visitors to big ideas that are tied to core educational standards.
“We do a workshop called ‘Found in New Jersey’ where we introduce them to the idea that dinosaurs lived here,” said Gsell. Gsell has long had a fascination for dinosaurs since he was a child and once kept his own fossil collection.
“We show them fossils from the state of New Jersey. We find their hometowns and we show them…what kinds of fossils they may be able to find.”
Dig in to dinosaurs
The park consists of a base camp and four stations, including ornithology, where kids learn about winged dinosaurs and their connection to modern-day birds; paleontology, where kids can take part in a dig site to find and label dinosaur bones; ecology and geology, which is devoted to the study of rocks, and climatology and earth science, featuring a solar field where kids can learn about the weather and how it affects people today.
To prepare for the visit, Huber Street teacher Allan Bonin led his accelerated learning classroom of fifth graders in a dinosaur challenge.
“The kids took on the role of an archeologist…to create their own fictitious dinosaur,” said Bonin. He said they had to determine what time period the dinosaur came from, what it ate, how it survived, and when it began to become extinct.
“They had to plan a route for where they went on an excavation,” said Bonin. His classroom lessons prepared the students with knowledge that informed their visit to the park.
Gsell sees the lessons at the park working hand in hand with lessons taught in the classroom.
“The story of the dinosaur can teach lessons about the interconnectivity of life, the way that dinosaurs were connected and how we are still connected to dinosaurs,” said Gsell.
He said that the “Dinosaurs” park experience takes science, which is often a dry topic, and gets kids talking about the subject in new and interesting ways.
“We want kids to be sparked by that sense of discovery – that science is a mystery that can be studied and solved. [That it is] a puzzle that you can look at,” said Gsell.
Scientists from New Jersey State Museum worked in partnership with the park creators to ensure that the exhibitions encompass the latest theories and discoveries and also helped shape the workshops.
“Hadrosaurus only eat plants, they don’t eat meat and they grow to about 26 feet!” said Karen Pappas, a dinosaur wrangler. “They were found in the Crustaceous period 65 billion years ago!”
Gusso entertained and educated the school groups as a 15-foot T-Rex puppet made its way through the audience to many squeals and some tears.
Despite the initial fear of some, many kids said they had fun and of course, had a favorite dinosaur. Huber Street Elementary School kids weighed in on what they enjoyed most.
“I learned that you should always be alert for the dinosaurs,” said eleven-year-old Emily Gasser. “They are just so fascinating and they are big!”
“I learned that dinosaurs and birds have a lot of things alike,” said eleven-year-old Nicholas Pascarello. “My favorite part was looking at the Velociraptors. One of them scared me.”
“I liked the Stegosaurus and the T-Rex because they are so cool,” said Alexandra Ianuale.
“The Brontosaurus,” said eight-year-old Larue Linder. “I like that they are really big.”
“I got scared when I saw it because I thought it was real,” said Ava Trani, 8, who started crying at the sight of the T-Rex. “I don’t know what it was going to do but I knew it was going to do something to me.” She calmed down after she realized that “it was just a person in a costume.”
Her favorite part of the day was petting the baby dinosaurs that are carried out in slings.
“What is great about the dinosaurs is that they were true,” said Gsell. “They were real. They really existed [and] to me that opens up a world of possibilities that giants were here.”
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at email@example.com.