Dinosaurs Taking Over

Artist Considers Moving Attraction To Grottoes

Posted: July 16, 2013

Coda Million, 5, of Staunton, meets tyrannosaurus rex at Grand Caverns on Saturday. (Photos by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
Artist Mark Cline patches up an apatosaurus. Cline’s dinosaur replicas are on display at the tourist attraction to test how people react to them. He plans an eventual paid tourist attraction.
Mark Cline likes to point out what he has in common with the dinosaurs he so often sculpts: Just as the giant reptiles did throughout their 150-million-year reign, Cline has to keep evolving.

In 2001, his Enchanted Castle Studios in Natural Bridge burst into flames. In April of last year, his Professor Cline’s Haunted Monster Museum located in the same community caught fire. That’s not to mention the ever-changing demands for tourist attractions, which the Waynesboro-born artist both creates and supports through his sculptures.

“I look at these fires as ways of reinventing myself,” Cline says. “I’ve constantly had to relook at how I was going to survive.”

Cline’s most recent attempt at “evolution” was transporting a few of the creatures at his Dinosaur Kingdom, located in the woods directly in front of the monster museum, to Grottoes. Dinosaur Kingdom shut down along with the museum — the “anchor attraction,” he said — after the fire. While trying to figure out the best way to reopen his attractions, the Natural Bridge park itself, highlighted by the rock formation that gives the site its name, went up for sale.

“We decided it wasn’t going to be a good investment [to reopen there],” Cline said.

He started looking for a new location for his huge dinosaur replicas. Enter Grottoes, a town with its own naturally formed tourist attraction — Grand Caverns.

Since last week, the prehistoric creatures have started to take over the woods near Grand Caverns Park. That’s when Cline’s team placed three dinosaurs in the town. And he arranged two more — a mother triceratops and her baby — on Saturday.
Cline is using the next several months to test out his creations in Grottoes and and see how visitors and locals alike react to them.

He’ll likely leave the sculptures up until the end of October, at least. He plans to approach Grottoes Town Council — as he did in the winter when he was granted permission for the test-run — to seek approval for a permanent, paid tourist attraction. He hasn’t determined what the name of the site would be, but it would likely include at least 20 dinosaurs.

“If that works out, we’re looking at possibly bringing several more dinosaurs there and arranging them very similar to how we had it at Dinosaur Kingdom,” he said. “I think this could be a good attempt to try to stay ahead of the tourism game.”

Dinosaur Kingdom married dinosaur replicas with Civil War soldier creations, a combination that proved successful, Cline says. It was featured on several networks, including the Discovery Channel and BBC.

“It was a winning formula,” he said.

Grottoes Town Manager Jeff Nicely said Wednesday he was already seeing a positive response to the park’s new creatures.

“People are posting pictures of them on Facebook,” he said. “It doesn’t take away from anything in the park, so it’s just a nice addition.”

Since Grand Caverns is a part of the Civil War Trail, the war-themed attraction could fit in perfectly, he noted. It could also help to boost visitation numbers at the attraction, which have been on the rise since the town took over ownership of the caverns in 2009.

“We’re hopeful that they’ll be well-received and [that people will] at least have fun with them this summer, even if we choose not to do anything with them permanently,” he said.
If that day comes, visitors would be able to purchase tickets for Grand Caverns and the outdoors sculpture exhibit in one place — the cabin where tickets are currently sold for the caverns. But until then, local residents and tourists can enjoy a taste of Cline’s creations for free.

Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or csipos@dnronline.com

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