Dino museum aims at kids’ hearts and adults’ walletsFew museums have guards who are 22 meters (72 feet) tall, 24 meters long, and 8.7 meters in circumference. Of course, most museum staff members can move and talk, and haven’t been extinct for 20 million years.
Welcome to Goseong county, South Gyeongsong province, where “Gongnyong Nara” (Dinosaur Land) makes kids gasp and parents open their wallets.
Korea’s first big-lizard theme park, located in Sangjokam Park, features more than 2,000 footprints from dinosaurs like the brachiosaurus, an herbivore and the model for the imposing dino statue that guards the museum’s front gate.
Goseong county, which has abundant dinosaur fossils, likes to call itself the “Jurassic Park of Korea.” It built the museum in August last year to help boost the local economy by attracting tourists. The investment was a pretty safe bet: it turns out kids like dinosaurs.
“My children love reading books about dinosaurs, so I wanted to show them something more real,” said Jeong Yi-gyu, 39, from Suwon city. “This is the perfect place to learn about dinosaurs.”
Even though the attraction is fairly recent, the fossils were discovered back in 1982, when Yang Seong-young, a professor at Kyungpook National University and his research team located the fossilized footprints. The immediate impact of the find was underwhelming ― the prints weren’t designated a natural treasure until 1999. Meanwhile, no suitable measures were taken to preserve the prints, which despite having survived for 20 million years were slowly being damaged by the nearby sea.
Then last year, the county invested 14.7 billion won ($14,000) to establish the museum, and the change in the county’s fortunes has been, well, mammoth. Since the museum was the first in Korea to be designated a natural heritage site, and is the fourth dinosaur museum to be built following ones in Canada, Japan and China, it reeled in families, children and students.
The museum has three stories and one underground level, and has five large theme exhibitions. A path was also built along the seashore where the dinosaur footprints are scattered, and the prints were coated with preservative chemicals to maintain their shape.
On display are 96 items, including fossils of dinosaurs' body parts and mobiles. Among them is a real skeleton of an oviraptor, a dinosaur notorious for stealing other dinosaurs' eggs. The skeleton was imported for a hefty price.
The museum has also tried to bring a sense of action to the fossils, by explaining how to read the footprints: if they’re irregularly spread, it means the dinosaur was running for its life from what was most likely a much bigger, carnivorous predator.
If the prints are deep, that means the dinosaur was running fast, and if the prints are shallow and regular, it means the dinosaur was only ambling. The size of the dinosaur can be determined by the size of the prints and the distance between them.
Since the museum’s opening in August last year, over 460,000 people have so far visited. Tourism in general is also up in Goseong county, a rise attributed to the museum. From 2000 to last year, no more than 300,000 tourists came to the area a year. As of July this year, more than 410,000 people have visited.
The county is thinking big. Hoping to show off the abundant footprints to the world, the museum is now preparing the “Dinosaurs Expo,” which will run from April 14 to June 4 next year.
by Kim Sang-jin