Event provides preview of dino park

A T-rex dinosaur model exhibits his stance at the Field Station: Dinosaurs event. The Derby attraction is scheduled to open Memorial Day weekend and feature a wide variety of animatronic dinosaurs.

There were smiles in abundance at the official kickoff event for Derby’s Field Station Dinosaurs attraction, but few were bigger and brighter than the one on the face of Guy Gsell, the developer behind the concept.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” Gsell said after a 45-minute program in a white tent set up on the property at the northwest corner of Rock Road and Patriot. “I’m so happy.”

The Dinosaur Announcement Party, as it was billed, attracted a crowd of about 80 people, a wide mix of those involved in its development, city and chamber officials and, at the end of the presentation, a T-rex. Well, a man in a T-rex outfit. Given the reaction by the children in the crowd, it might as well have been the real deal. And that’s just the point at the family themed park: provide as close an experience to being around the long-extinct beasts as possible.

Gsell said the attraction should open Memorial Day weekend with a VIP red carpet event on Friday, May 25 and the park opening to the public the following day. Construction on the groundwork for the site is already well underway and the dinosaurs are now being made in China. They will be shipped to Los Angeles and then trucked to Derby.

Also pleased to be at the event was Mayor Randy White, who declared with gusto, “Dinosaurs are making a comeback here in Derby, Kansas.”

The process of getting to this point has been “an adventure,” he said. 

When he first learned of the concept, White’s initial reaction was “you’ve got to be kidding.” But he warmed to the concept and got a crash course in STAR bond financing, the investment vehicle being used to fund the park and development within its district.

“I learned all kinds of terms I didn’t know before,” he said.

Weaving through the challenges present to get the attraction rolling wasn’t easy, he said, but the effort was worth it.

The precise number of dinosaurs is still being worked on, but there will be 30 to 50 of them, including a strong Kansas connection with the pteranodon, a flying reptile, and tylosaurus, a massive sea lizard, represented. They are the state’s official fossils.

Derby resident Mike Everhart is an expert about those creatures, which were in inland seas over what is now Kansas.

Everhart presented a segment to the audience on the importance of the Sunflower State to the world of paleontology, which basically got its start in Kansas.

“I think it’s fitting we’re bringing this back to Kansas,” he said.

He also has a job of being a consultant to the park and said it will be a valuable resource.

Also on hand were visitor industry officials such as Mary Beth Jarvis, head of Wichita Festivals Inc., which operates the Wichita RiverFest. She is planning to collaborate with Field Station officials to include them in the festival’s kickoff parade.

Officials from other area attractions, such as the Sedgwick County Zoo, also have mentioned ways to incorporate the park into what is referred to in the trade as “family science tourism.”

The thinking of places like Field Station, say officials such as White, is to present an enjoyable and educational time for the whole family.

“The shows are fun and entertaining, but behind that, they teach,” he said.