By Scott Sullivan
What do passenger pigeons, dodos and Rick Perry’s presidential hopes have in common? They’re extinct. The Prehistoric Forest may soon be too.
For those who don’t know the attraction, we are not talking downtown shopping here in midwinter. That’s a work in progress we will make progress. We are talking the Prehistoric Forest in the Irish Hills.
The 8-acre roadside attraction, which opened on U.S. 12 south of Jackson in 1963, drew tourists with life-size fiberglass dinosaurs, a man-made volcano that smoked, 37-foot waterfall, safari train and 400-foot-tall Jungle Rapids Water Slide.
Think your generation’s weird? Picture, as a child, schussing down a waterslide back into Cenozoic times. “Look, Kyle! There’s a bearded brontosaurus with cannons in front!” Who needed LSD after that?
The park added a Land of the Leprechauns as a segue returning guests to reality, such as was.
Business dipped in the 1980s as interstates rerouted traffic between cities. Three sculptures vanished during that decade, turning up in front of a local high school.
The park closed for good in 1999. More statues ended up on the roof of another school 10 years later. Security cameras now watch over what dinosaurs, mammoths and such remain. Weeds they once might have “eaten” now are devouring them.
Sandra Crabb bought the P.F. in 2012 and still hopes to save it. But Cambridge Township, deeming it an attractive nuisance, has given her a deadline to demolish its deteriorating mountain or present a plan to replace it.
An “attractive nuisance” is not necessarily the last schmuck you dated. In court or tort speak, it’s a dangerous object apt to draw children. Owners can be held liable, even if the brats are trespassing.
Crabb shouldn’t solve this by “thinking outside the box.” Folks who repeat that cliché are stuck inside one so deep there is no escaping. After some bocks, as in beers, I figured the Hills’ loss could be our gain.
If you thought the Dr. Seuss museum pitched for the old Douglas Haworth plant was a great idea, why not a Prehistoric Forest? We’d need few adaptations; just move the Irish Hills’ old sign here.
We who’d be specimens would need to make ourselves vandal-proof. That was a problem in old Forest. Teens would break in, lop off heads of cavemen, twinge a nerve swinging the ax, sue and collect. Justice not served again, but swerved for a gain.
We’d have to contain vegetation also, steering clear of habitats some people — between mowing their lawns, pruning shrubs and spraying for poison ivy — deem globally imperiled, galactically threatened or even worse.
To save money, our lawyer could double as an exhibit. I nominate Rudy Giuliani, whose defense of President Trump not interviewing with Russian probe inquisitor Robert Mueller was, “Truth isn’t truth.” I couldn’t have put it better. If that’s not the mantra for restoring something that’s gone extinct twice, I don’t know what is.
My parents took me through the Irish Hills soon after Michigan International Speedway was built there in 1968. Other roadside attractions:
- Frontier City, where bad guys tried to rob the bank at least six times a day, but were foiled each time by the marshal;
- Mystery Hill, where people could see illusions like water that runs uphill;
- Stagecoach Stop USA, another TV Western replica park with train holdups, shootouts and more fun; and
- The Towers, competing structures on a hilltop 12 feet apart. Their two owners fought for years, first one adding to make his taller, then the other. Both were closed in 2000 and Cambridge Township deemed them an attractive nuisance, but the local historic society is still trying to save them.
The freak show on both sides was much like Butler Street is today. Re-creating the P.F. here could be done almost anywhere, but the Haworth plant might be had for almost no cost and worth it.
Industrial contaminants in the groundwater? Details, details. “There’s no problems, only solutions,” as John Lennon sang. Solutions like, say, a chemical that can eradicate these toxins, plus teenage vandals and weeds that aren’t globally imperiled … Let’s put our best minds to work on it.
So what if the office’s roof collapsed under snow a few years ago? The Cenozoic Era had an Ice Age. As the water slide passed displays of dinos, Giuliani and local residents, it would become a luge run. Then the land of leprechauns.
I visit the Hills each fall to cover the Michigan high school cross country finals at MIS, kids running 15-mph max at a place cars do 220-plus. It’s a surreal trip through time as well.
I remember when I, as a teen, was fascinated by what grown-ups fancied would claim our imaginations and parents’ dollars.
Yesterday’s there, if we’re nuts enough to go back.