On a summer day in The Hamptons, there are dozens of activities to keep families busy. But what do you do with your children when it rains? You can cure your family's cabin fever with a trip to the Dinosaur Walk Museum in nearby Riverhead. The two-year-old museum is located at 221 East Main Street, one block west of Atlantis Marine World Aquarium, another best bet for a dreary day.
The Dinosaur Walk Museum claims to have one of the world's largest collections of prehistoric animals restored life-size to how they would have actually looked when they were alive. The collection represents 47 species and ranges from a two-story tall Tyrannosaurus Rex to a tiny six-inch tall Microraptor. Other exhibits include giant sea lizards, large and small flying reptiles, and the traditional skulls, bones, and skeletons from the Age of Dinosaurs. "The majority of our exhibits are what we call 'fleshed-out'," says Museum Manager Katy Groeber. "That means that they are made to look real, the way these creatures actually would have looked more than 65 million years ago."
The museum is self-guided and has a glossy "Jurassic Park" movie feel to it, with sinister dinosaur sound effects coming from hidden speakers, scary accent lighting, and extremely realistic-looking dinosaurs. Sometimes on a quiet day, Groeber says the museum can get pretty scary for their youngest guests, so they turn the sound effects down. For smaller children, there's a fun Fossil Dig, in which you dig through sand to uncover a variety of bones and fossils. Plan on spending about two hours at the museum, depending on your pace, how many of the dinosaur films you watch, and how long you spend in their dinosaur gift shop! While the museum is primarily geared towards children, Groeber says that she's noticed that grandparents have been having as much fun as the grandchildren they bring. According to the museum staff, the most popular exhibits are the life-size Tyrannosaur and the Fossil Dig.
"The Jurassic Park movies certainly helped get more people excited about dinosaurs," says one of the museum's "Resident Paleontologists", Tim Serabian. "But the movie had some of the facts wrong, so we help clear those misconceptions up here at the museum." For Serabian, who is going to college to become a teacher, this position at the museum was a perfect fit. He's been interested in dinosaurs since he was three-years-old, but unlike many other children, his interest followed him into his adult life. Serabian says there's still so much scientists have to learn about the Mesozoic Era. "Think about it this way," he says. "Dinosaurs existed on Earth for more than 150 million years. Humans have only been around for 50,000 years so far." In fact, he says researchers only recently discovered a conclusive link between meat-eating dinosaurs and modern-day birds. In addition, scientists are now saying that dinosaurs may even have had feathers at one point. They think that, for example, a baby T-Rex would have been born with feathers to keep it warm, but then shed them as it grew.
Besides being a fun way to spend an afternoon, the Dinosaur Walk Museum is also a great educational experience for all ages. In fact, while most tourists come in the summer, the museum is busy during the school year with educational groups. "There's so much to learn here," says the museum's other Resident Paleontologist, Brian Linnen. "If the Dinosaur Age was a glacier, we currently only know about an ice cube worth of information." Linnen, who has also been interested in the prehistoric creatures for his entire life, says school subjects from History to Math to Science are all incorporated into the learning experience here.
You can also learn about your own local history. Did you know that you could find fossils in your own backyard here on Long Island? Linnen says that fossilized imprints of seashells can be found imbedded in rocks in almost everyone's backyards. More amazing is that a dinosaur footprint was unearthed right here in Riverhead a few years ago! How could that be if Long Island didn't exist in Prehistoric Times? Linnen explains that when the glaciers formed Long Island, they took the fossils from where they originated with them.
The Dinosaur Walk Museum is the brainchild of well-known Nebraska sculptor Fred Hoppe who built the first Dinosaur Walk Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and also owns a War Memorial Museum there and in Branson, Missouri. Museum Manager Groeber says her and her staff are looking forward to the addition of a full-size Stegasaurus and a Sarcosuchus (a ten ton, 40 foot long prehistoric crocodile) in a few weeks. She also hopes to put in a dinosaur-themed food court soon. In the meantime, the museum is available for Children's Birthday Parties if you bring your own food. There are two different birthday packages, but each includes museum admission, a dinosaur mask, a special toy, and discounted admissions for accompanying adults.
The Dinosaur Walk Museum is open seven days a week from 10am-5pm, year-round. Admission ranges from $6.95 for children 3-11, to $10.95 for adults over 18. Call ahead if you're bringing a large group and they'll try to arrange a guided tour of the facility, plus there's a discount on each admission. In addition, the facility is equipped for the assistance of special needs visitors and is fully wheelchair accessible. There is free parking available on Maple Avenue.
The museum also offers a same-day discount of $1.00 per person if you present your receipt from either the neighboring aquarium or the International Fauna Society's The Serpentarium, located next door. You can find-out more about Riverhead's Dinosaur Walk Museum at their Web site, www.dinosaurwalkriverhead.com
, or by calling (631) 369-6556.