Joanna made a wish — to meet a paleontologist and to go on a dinosaur dig. Part of it came true for her in Glen Rose on Saturday.
The 11-year-old Plano girl and her family traveled to Glen Rose so Joanna could participate in the christening of the new “paleo park” full of dinosaur tracks that were discovered behind the Comfort Inn & Suites off U.S. Highway 67 on the east side of town.
Last month Jerry Jacene, who works with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, was visiting Glen Rose to gather dinosaur-related items for Joanna after a planned trip to Montana for a dinosaur dig fell through. The girl, who had undergone a heart transplant, was diagnosed with bone cancer and was too sick to travel to Montana.
Curious about the dug-out area behind the hotel, Jacene said he was walking around and saw the exposed tracks. They were on property owned by Larry Smith.
“This is just amazing what happened,” said Jacene, who runs a prehistoric museum in Kingsport, Tenn. “It took on a life of its own — a tsunami, if you will.”
Jacene, Smith, Comfort Inn General Manager Nick Patel and Joanna and her family stood on the edge of the track site Saturday and surveyed the tracks, which Jacene believes were made by three different kinds of dinosaurs and go in different directions. He calls it a dinosaur “intersection” that could tell scientists more about the dinosaurs that lived in the Glen Rose area millions of years ago.
Joanna was given the title of assistant site foreman and the first set of tracks that have been discovered will be named for her. Jacene gave her a rock pick to christen the site and make the first dig. Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Martin read a proclamation honoring Joanna, then gave her the key to the city.
“Wow,” Joanna said.
County Commissioner Mike Ford followed, also extending the county’s best wishes and welcoming her and her family.
“If you need anything, you give me a call,” he said.
Wearing black jeans with rhinestones on the pockets, a “Peace Horse” top, athletic shoes and a red cap, Joanna is a quiet, shy and very bright girl who passed up Disneyland or some other place that kids dream of to make her dinosaur wish. She tires easily, but that didn’t stop her from visiting the track site, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center — which arranged a special tour for her and her family — Dinosaur World, which also rolled out the red carpet, and other sites.
The community welcomed Joanna with gifts and warm words. Patel presented her and her family with the key to a free room on the first floor near the door where they could rest. It was decorated with balloons, which Joanna’s 4-year-old brother had much fun playing with, and gift baskets.
Joanna’s mother, Lin, said the family was so grateful to Glen Rose and the outpouring of love and support.
“Thank you to the community that has been so kind to us,” Lin said as Joanna looked over a scrapbook made for her and a pendant with a tiny stone dinosaur from the Fossilmania show in town.
Last week crews working for Smith bulldozed the acreage behind the hotel and on Friday dug several test holes. Jacene said they indicate a layer of limestone several feet underground that could be the protective blanket for more tracks.
Protecting the tracks that are already exposed is a top priority, Jacene said.
“We’ll make a replica of the site using latex,” he added. “We’ll have put up some kind of shelter over it to protect it from the elements.”
Patel said that visitors to the site apparently damaged one of the tracks and left behind beer cans. Jacene said he looked out his hotel window and saw a man kicking at one of the tracks. He probably didn’t realize what he was doing was harmful, Jacene said, but the exposed tracks are quite fragile and need to be protected.
Some yellow caution tape has been strung above the site, but Smith plans to erect a high fence soon.
A “Friends of the Tracks” volunteer group also is being formed to help protect the tracks. Local resident Nancy Scott is acting as volunteer coordinator. If you’re interested in helping, call the Glen Rose Reporter at 897-2282 and leave your name and contact information.