Prehistoric Forest owner seeks to restore Irish Hills park


  • Don...The UpNorth Memories Guy... Harrison, Flickr Creative Commons

Sandra Crabb runs a small petroleum company and came to the Irish Hills area of Michigan in search of oil — but she ended up purchasing an abandoned tourist stop instead. Crabb, 77, now owns Prehistoric Forest, once a popular roadside tourist attraction.

According to The Detroit Free Press, after learning that the land beneath the abandoned property might have had oil deposits, Crabb purchased the land — and soon after discovered the dinosaur figures within the forest. Crabb then became convinced that she could bring them back to life.

“It took me five minutes, no, 30 minutes, to fall in love with it,” Crabb told the Free Press. “The beauty of nature, the fun of the ideas that the former owner of the Prehistoric Forest had, the dinosaurs, all the variations on the theme — absolutely marvelous.”

Prehistoric Forest opened in 1963 and has the ‘60s written all over it. But with the construction of I-94, which drew much of the travel traffic away, the Forest closed in 1999. Years of abandonment and vandalism make Crabb’s goal of restoring the dinosaur park attraction an even larger challenge than it already is.

The new tourist stop owner is serious about bringing the dinosaur park to life again. She's even relocated from California to Michigan.

Crabb’s goal hasn't gone without some hiccups. The township where the park is located is worried that after years of abandonment, trespassers might hurt themselves, which could result in lawsuits. Crabb has missed several deadlines to comply with local officials’ requests that she demolish or rehab one of the largest structures on the land. The issue is now on its way to court.

Bill Gentner, Cambridge Township supervisor, said he doesn't feel that restoring the tourist stop would be worth the time and work that it would take. He told the Free Press that kids’ interests are different from when the attraction was created, and that there are so many things to do in the area.

When asked why she's trying to restore the dinosaurs instead of tearing down the structures to make it easier to drill oil, Crabb’s response was that there's nothing that stimulates the imagination like going somewhere and finding some part of a lost time. She said she feels that the Prehistoric Forest represents a trip back in time.

Crabb's ideas for the park don’t just involve restoring the property’s dinosaurs — she also wants to have film shoots on the property, and she might add zip lines among the trees and create historical exhibits.

In reference to the property’s mountain, Crabb told the Free Press that she loves to look at it and dream of “the future and the past and everything in between,” but she acknowledges that she needs to make the property safe and has accepted the possibility that she may have to take it down.

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