City to decide the future of iconic Vernal dinosaurs

May 4, 2022, 5:29 PM | Updated: May 5, 2022, 5:12 pm
(Dinosaurland Tourism & Kim Barton)...
(Dinosaurland Tourism & Kim Barton)
(Dinosaurland Tourism & Kim Barton)

VERNAL, Utah — In the town of Vernal, two figures loom large. A green dinosaur named T-Rex, and a pink dinosaur named Dinah.

The two icons lined Highway 40 for about 40 years, until Dinah was moved in 1999 to a local park where it holds a sign, welcoming people to Vernal, “Utah’s Dinosaurland.”

T-Rex continues to watch over 800 W. Main Street (Highway 40) but has fallen into disarray.

Quinn Bennion, the City Manager for Vernal, confirmed they had created a survey to assess the interest and receive public comment on the future of T-Rex. The survey for public comment can be found here.

According to Bennion, the city expected maybe 300 responses. By Monday, they had received over 2,800.

Bennion confirmed that while the future of the Dinosaur was up for discussion, it was never at any point suggested among the city council that they would get rid of dinosaurs altogether.

“Vernal is home to the Dinosaur National Monument, we have lots of tourists here yearly to see it. It’s our heritage. It’s our DNA. It’s who we are, “Dinosaur Land,” Corey Foley, a member of the City Council said.

The results of the survey were collected by Wednesday and shared with KSL TV.

The cost to repair T-Rex is an estimated $30,000. When asked if they should repair the current T-Rex or purchase a newer, more accurate T-Rex for a lower cost, these were the results.

The T-Rex is commonly decorated for holidays. When asked about the future and cost of costumes, these were the results.

The following chart shows where the people surveyed were from.

In addition to the questions answered, 549 people left an optional comment with their survey. Full results of the survey along with comments made can be found here.

Foley said he’s a third generation “Vernal boy” and at 35 years old, “as long as I can remember T- Rex has been in my memories here, my business  is across the street and we see it daily. I am biased, he was originally built on the property my business sits on. The Millecam family had a small private, owned dinosaur park here.”

Dinah and T-Rex was created in 1958 by George Millecam, the owner of “Dine-a-Ville” motel to entice visitors to stay there.

George Millecam’s daughter, Melinda Millecam Barlow, still lives in Vernal.

To understand what T-Rex means to the community of Vernal, it takes diving into its past.

“My dad had always been…he’s an artist and always loved Vernal and the dinosaurs, and he decided he was going to build a dinosaur park. And he started building dinosaurs, life-size dinosaurs,” Melinda Barlow said.

(Courtesy: Melinda Barlow)

Between 1967 and 1970 he built seven dinosaurs.

Melinda Barlow’s mother, Helen, designed and made a mold for Dinah and sent it to Salt Lake City where she was built.

The larger-than-life lizard stands over 40 feet high and is 4,200 pounds of  cotton-candy pink fiberglass.

T-Rex, however was built in the Millecam’s backyard.

“…with welding, reebar, cement, chicken wire, cement stucco, and I remember him planning and drawing all these sketches and then we went out to the field and he said, ‘I’ve got to put them where they’re going to stay because they’re too big to be moved,'” Barlow said.

George Millecam was a contractor before he ran his father’s motel.

“At that time to build houses they didn’t have sheetrock, they used lath and plaster and he used that same technique to build the dinosaurs so they’re pretty heavy,” Barlow said. “There were seven altogether and he decided he would move the T-rex out in front of the motel along with the Pink Dinah.” But we owned the property that highway 40 kind of divided and it left this little island that present T-rex stands on.”

Barlow said on one occasion during her father’s dino-building era, “the ladder he was working from fell out from underneath him and he grabbed a hold of the roof, the eave of this carport/dinosaur port that he had and he held on.”

He called for help but Barlow’s mother was considered legally deaf and used hearing aids.

“My mom said she got this feeling that something was wrong and ran out and was able to stand the ladder up and help him down,” Barlow said. “And I think that was the end of dinosaur building.”

According to Barlow, her father, donated the land of that little island including the dinosaur to the city when he found out a curb and gutter would be added.

“He did not want to pay taxes on the curb and gutter so he donated it to them! I always think that story’s kind of fun because he was so frugal.”

Since that time, T-Rex and Dinah have become Vernal Icons. T-Rex gets dressed up for the holidays.

The other dinosaurs ended in up in Dinosaur, Colorado.

“I think there’s enough support locally,” Barlow said. “I think he will be saved.”

Foley doesn’t think T-Rex will be going anywhere.

“Vernal City has had a very positive response to the survey that was sent out to the public and several thousand people have offered to donate towards his restoration, a local painter has approached me and offered to paint it as a donation. There is not a doubt in my mind that he will be restored and saved for years to come,” Foley said.
The dino and the results of the public comment survey are up for discussion at the Vernal City Council Meeting Wednesday.

But based on results alone, the people have spoken and they want T-Rex to stay.

Bennion and Foley both mentioned the possibility of a fundraiser likely through a non-profit where people could donate to save the dinosaur, in an effort to avoid using tax money.

“Lets face it, there is going to be some costs to the tax-payer for the cities efforts to maintain the grounds around Rex, and if the costumes continue, (also a high response from the survey to keep them.) However, Vernal City has been budgeting for these costs in the past and have been planning to in the future,” Foley said. “Speaking to ‘raising taxes’ to restore Rex I don’t see that happening. We have the best people in our community and I don’t doubt they will pitch into the restoration to make it happen. I would encourage anyone who has an interest in the dinosaurs in Vernal, please pitch in to the soon to be announced GoFundMe fundraiser.”

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City to decide the future of iconic Vernal dinosaurs