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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Shea Greve and his son Beau, 2, check out a dinosaur exhibit during Jurassic Quest XL: Out of Extinction at Allen County Memorial Coliseum on Saturday. 

  • Ethan Luyben, 3, enjoys the fossil dig area Saturday. Children could either use tools to unearth fossils or dig right in with their hands.

  • Margaux Vansickle, 2, goes on a dinosaur ride Saturday afternoon. Jurassic Quest is open today from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Sunday, August 06, 2017 1:00 am

Dinosaurs return to delight at Coliseum

Austin Candor | The Journal Gazette

As he ran his hands over an orbital horn that once belonged to the Triceratops dinosaur millions of years ago, Brian Thomas knew he had his audience's undivided attention.

“Imagine you have three of those on the front of your SUV,” Thomas said as a handful of kids eagerly crowded around the horn. “No one's going to mess with you when you have road rage.”

Thomas' fossil table was one of many attractions from Jurassic Quest XL: Out of Extinction exhibit at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum on Saturday. The exhibit runs through 7 p.m. today.

Dinosaur roars carried throughout the dimly lit Expo Center as the exhibit brought Fort Wayne back to a land before time.

In its second year at the Coliseum, Jurassic Quest was originally the vision of Dan Arnold, whose family has carried on the exhibit since its creation five years ago. Arnold's son Brandon serves as Jurassic Quest's promoter.

Having been a dinosaur fanatic since an early age, Brandon admitted he often hangs by the entrance to see kids' reactions as they enter the exhibit.

“Seeing them light up when they get into the exhibit never gets old,” said Brandon Arnold, who's taken Jurassic Quest all over the country. “They always come in and are like, 'Oh, that's a ... ' They know the names and everything. They're just stoked.”

When it comes to the exhibit, Brandon Arnold works to find the right balance between education and entertainment, though he rarely has to worry about  the latter.

Jurassic Quest carries over 80 life-size dinosaur models, many of which contain moving parts. When kids noticed a Tyrannosaurus rex crane its neck toward them, they let out shrieks of delight, tentatively wandering closer to the rail for a better look.

Their parents, though, had a tougher job, keeping one eye on their cameras and the other on the dinosaurs' tails that whipped around the exhibit's perimeter.

While the dinosaur models stole the show, Jurassic Quest also contained a variety of stations that included the classic fossil dig. It didn't take kids long to toss the recommended brushes aside and plow through the sand boxes with their bare hands as if they were digging for gold.

But it was people like Thomas who made sure kids didn't become too entangled in the line between reality and fiction that's often crossed by franchise classics like Jurassic Park.

The 29-year-old was high energy as he took group after group around his table of fossils, some of which were 450 million years old. As Thomas used his hands to recount stories of prehistoric days for hundreds of bright-eyed youngsters, it was hard to tell who was more captivated by the extinct reptiles.

“Can you imagine a shark bigger than the biggest sharks that eat whales? I mean, how is that not absolutely fascinating,” Thomas later said. “That's just trying to relive history by fragments. It's like real-life Legos, trying to put them together to make a story.”

But even with an education degree, Thomas still loves what Hollywood and other entertainment industries have done with dinosaurs.

“Take a look at Steven Spielberg's movies. Yeah, are they scientifically accurate all the time? Nah,” Thomas said. “But it does create that imagination, that wanderlust. I think dinosaurs are going to be immortalized like so many non-fiction stories.”

acandor@jg.net