Abandoned Prehistoric Forest

The Irish Hills region of central Michigan is a regional vacation destination, with summer homes and cabins spread out over rolling hills and along small lakes. Starting in the 1920's, various tourist traps started springing up along U.S. Route 12, capitalizing on the popularity of the area with vacationers. One of these was the Prehistoric Forest Amusement Park, a roadside attraction built in 1963. Mixing education with entertainment, the park was divided into three areas: first, a safari train ride through the woods, which was filled with over 70 fiberglass statues of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. A walking tour led by a guide would then take a closer look at some of the creatures, describing their habitats and diets. Finally, a second train ride went through "the land of the leprechaun," which featured traditional legends from the early Irish settlers of the area. Other attractions included a fossil digging pit, a volcano that smoked and rumbled, and a 400-foot water slide added in the 1980's. Admission in 1981 was $2.75 for adults, and $1.75 for kids.

Though the Irish Hills still remains a draw for weekenders and sportsmen, the number of people stopping at tourist destinations along U.S. 12 started to fall in the 1980's, lured away by regional amusement parks and casinos. One by one the attractions started to close. Prehistoric Park was sold to new owners in 1997, but closed a few years later in 1999. It has been vacant and for sale since, most recently for $269,000.

Even before the park closed, the fiberglass statues were a popular target for student pranksters at nearby schools dating back to the 1970's. Three statues, including that of a neanderthal man, were stolen from the park in 1985 and later found in front of Saline High School. A similar prank in 2010 saw some of the same figures appear on top of a school in Onsted, where heavy equipment had to be called in to move the statues from the roof.

The most recent acts of mischief at the park haven't been quite so harmless, however. In November of 2012, a number of the fiberglass figures were damaged by vandals, who knocked them over and smashed off heads and limbs of dinosaurs. It wasn't the first time they had struck - for two years prior, similar damage had been done on the same weekend in November. Seeing a pattern, the owner of the park installed motion-sensitive trail cameras in trees around the park, hoping to catch them in the act. The culprits turned out to be 13 teenage students from schools in nearby cities and two of their fathers, who were in the area for a yearly track meet. High-resolution images from the trail cameras and the fact that some of the students were wearing varsity jackets while committing the crimes allowed investigators to identify which schools the went to, and later, who they were. They were charged with trespassing and vandalism.

Today, only a few statues remain in the park. Security cameras watch over the trails as they recede into the overgrowth, as another American tourist trap faces extinction.