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Dinosaur Tracks Threatened by Mother Nature


AUSTIN, Texas - The prehistoric dinosaur tracks at Zilker Botanical Gardens are
in danger of extinction.

"These tracks have been around 100 million years, but in the last 2 1/2 years
that they've been uncovered, we are beginning to lose them," said Mickie Murin,
who coordinates the Saturday tours of the tracks offered between March and
November. "This is a desperate situation."

Murin was one of the Austin Community College paleontology students who
unearthed the ruins just below the rose garden in 1992. The 113 footprints
embedded in several layers of limestone are spread over an acre near Stratford
Drive. The fossil site is important because of its age and the diversity of
remains, which include prehistoric turtle bones,fish scales and clam fossils.

"We are losing the tracks due to rain. Every time it rains, it brings down sand
and gravel that act as abrasives," Murin said. "It's really bad in the winter.
The freeze-and-thaw cracks the limestone and the tracks."

Although access is restricted to guard against vandalism, the dinosaur
footprints can't be locked away from exposure to the elements. The answer, Murin
said, lies in building an open-air pavilion and digging a trench around the area
to promote drainage.

"The consultants told us there is nothing we can do to protect the tracks until
funding is available. It makes it more pertinent to get something as soon as
possible," she said.

Although the tracks are city property and maintained by the Department of Parks
and Recreation, Zilker Botanical Gardens supervisor Valleri Edelbrock said
volunteers such as Murin and members of the Austin Area Garden Council operate
the tours, print materials and work for improvements.

"The parks department supports the pavilion, but it's going to take a lot of
money," Edelbrock said.

With no parks funding available, the city has applied for historic landmark
status for the 100 million-year-old site. Such a designation is the first
requisite to qualify for grant money from the city's Heritage Grant Program.

"We felt they did represent a tourist destination and met other criteria that
make them eligible for historic zoning," said Don Perryman of the Department of
Planning and Development. "They could be considered endangered because of the
possibilities of erosion and other natural forces and vandalism."

The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously recommended historic zoning Aug.
22, and the designation is to be considered by the Planning Commission this
month and later by the City Council. If the council approves, the site could
qualify for up to $25,000 from the bed tax money charged by local hotels.

Because many of the craggy imprints stop at the edge of dirt and brush, Murin
suspects another acre of dinosaur footprints is still buried. At least five
varying shapes the size of a human hand have been identified as dinosaur tracks.

"There's no sense in uncovering them because we're already losing the ones we
have," Murin said. .