Dinosaur aims to build buy-in
Residents brainstorm ways to improve town's image
DINOSAUR — Like the people of Dinosaur, the businesses have to multitask.
Visitors can purchase a turkey sandwich and an espresso at the same place where they can find handmade soap and original framed prints. Another business offers herbs and spices, antiques, plastic dinosaurs and ice cream.
It’s what must be done for a business to survive in the 391-person town three miles from the Utah border.
People must do the same. The town’s mayor is also its librarian. Its mail carrier is the school bus driver, a business owner and a volunteer at the visitors center.
Residents are willing to donate a few hours to the visitor center or the newly opened charter school, but that’s the extent of it. There are no civic clubs, no business revitalization efforts, no civic improvement groups.
And the town is suffering because of it.
“It’s so frustrating because Dinosaur has so much potential,” Mayor Wendy Petersen said.
The visitors center logs nearly 300,000 visitors a year, but the town is unable to capture them — or more importantly, their dollars.
“The reality is that until Dinosaur takes some pride in itself and cleans up, there’s not much you can do,” Petersen said. “All our input is telling us (the town’s) got to be visually appealing.”
A study funded by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs indicated exactly that.
“We have to buy into the community before anyone else will,” she said.
The Town Board has taken a step in a direction Petersen hopes will start a wave of improvements. It’s applied for a $129,000 Great Outdoors Colorado grant that would be used to construct a fenced playground, picnic area, park and pavilion on U.S. Highway 40 in the middle of town.
“It will make it more pleasing to look at and more beneficial to the kids,” Petersen said.
This is the town’s second request for the funds, and Petersen is hopeful about its chances. Town officials should know in the middle of June.
The town has also been awarded a $325,000 Department of Local Affairs grant for water system improvements. The Town Board has not voted to accept it yet, and there’s some debate about whether the town can dip into its nearly $300,000 reserve to find the cash match required.
According to the DOLA-funded study, 80 percent of Dinosaur’s residents commute to work at the Deserado Mine or the oil fields in Vernal, Utah, or Rangely.
That, Dinosaur resident Dean Kline said, may be one reason for the lack of civic pride in the community.
“It’s really hard to get anyone to agree on anything,” he said. “It really is frustrating. Nobody gives a crap.”
Klein has lived in Dinosaur for 25 years and owned a business, the Pickle Stop, for seven years. He remembers when a person couldn’t find a place to live in Dinosaur. Now, the last time anything was constructed was two years ago, and Petersen is excited that four building permit requests came in less than six months.
They’re mostly additions and remodel projects anyway, City Clerk Tamara Long said.
“Tourism is really falling,” he said. “They’re just not spending the money like they used to.”
Despite a lack of involvement, Dinosaur residents seem to love living in Dinosaur.
“I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” Klein said. “There’s just no economy here.”
The per-capita income in Dinosaur is $12,904 and 18 percent of residents live below the government poverty level, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
Much of the town’s $133,000 annual budget is spent on salaries and maintenance projects. There’s little left over for frivolities, though $500 is budgeted this year to repair and repaint the three large, decorative Dinosaurs the town sports.
“We still have a long way to go,” Petersen said. “We’ve gotten a lot of help from the county in getting us where we need to go.”
The county’s done all it can, however, to get the community the infrastructure for high-speed telecommunications. The problem is that the town can’t afford the cost of setting up the lines, the company that can do it won’t, and the town’s telephone company can’t do it.
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031 or at email@example.com.
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