New home on tap for Dinosaur Ridge Visitor Center

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Tentative agreement with county would provide land for new building closer to prehistoric tracks

By Vicky Gits

The Dinosaur Ridge Visitor Center could be moving to a larger, modern facility on 19 acres that were purchased by Jeffco Open Space in 2009. 

Under a tentative agreement between the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge and the county, by 2018 the center would move to a new building higher on the Hogback and closer to the famous dinosaur tracks.

"It's been in the works for four years," said Joe Tempel, executive director of the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge, the nonprofit that operates the visitor center and conducts tours of the dinosaur tracks near C-470 and Alameda Parkway.

"We intend to tread lightly on the mountain backdrop,” Tempel said. “It's our commitment to blend in with the scenery. It will be functional, elegant and unobtrusive."

All of the construction and operational costs of a new center would be borne by the nonprofit, and the new center would be operated under a lease agreement with Jefferson County. The new center would be about 300 yards west of the current building, which opened as a visitor center in 1994.

The famous dinosaur tracks preserved in the sandstone of the Dakota Ridge Hogback were uncovered during construction of Alameda Parkway in 1937. The current visitor center is a popular destination for tourists, school groups and other visitors; it offers tours of the tracks, as well as classes, programs and educational exhibits inside.

The new center would have about 17,000 square feet and 100 parking spaces, compared with the existing center’s 5,000 square feet and 40 parking spaces. It would have flush toilets instead of chemical toilets.

Formal lease agreement pending

A formal lease agreement remains to be worked out. Tempel said Jefferson County and the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge are in the process of defining the work to be done by engineers, landscape architects and architects.

Tom Hoby, county director of parks and open space, said the new agreement would run through 2018 and anticipates selecting a new location and identifying necessary steps for building the new facility.

"They have had a longtime dream of a larger facility that is suited to their needs,” Hoby said.

The projected cost of about $10 million will have to be raised from private donations and grants. The Friends group also has been working to build a cover for the dinosaur footprints, which would cost an additional $2 million.

The immediate goal is to raise $100,000 to pay for engineering and architectural studies, Tempel said, adding that a 25-year lease for the county land would be necessary to acquire serious funding.

Separately, an agreement with the county has been reached to operate the existing center through 2018. Under that agreement, which was discussed at a meeting of the county commissioners on July 31, commercial buses will no longer be allowed to travel along the two-lane road along the ridge, which is popular with cyclists. 

The proposed site of the new visitor center currently is occupied by an abandoned single-story '50s ranch-style home formerly owned by the Rooney family elders. It will either have to be destroyed or moved, Tempel said.

The new center will be higher up on the slope facing C-470 with a dramatic panoramic view of the Hogback.

Nearby development a factor

The new location would put the visitor center a bit more out of the way of future massive commercial and residential developments that have been approved for the area near the C-470/Alameda interchange.

Open Space purchased the 19 acres in 2009 for $1.4 million amid a legal dispute between the county and an investor group, Three Dinos.

Former county administrator Jim Moore alleged the acquisition was part of an effort to settle a lawsuit involving Three Dinos’ purchase of 150 acres at the interchange and should have been publicly disclosed as such. 

The Three Dinos group is still actively pursuing development at the interchange. On June 12, the county commissioners approved rezoning for a mix of uses that includes 390 units of residential housing on 27 acres on the southwest corner of C-470 and West Alameda Parkway.

Various developers own chunks of land on all four quadrants of the intersection, which was vastly upgraded in 2008, at least partly to accommodate the Solterra housing development in Lakewood on the east side of C-470 and to provide for future economic development.

Contact Vicky Gits at vicky@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22.