Three Boy Scouts on a troop outing tossed a 190-million-year-old set of dinosaur tracks into a reservoir last week, prompting a park ranger to call on Scout leaders to do a better job of teaching environmental ethics.
Curt Sinclear, the park ranger who saw the boys vandalizing the rocks at Red Fleet State Park in eastern Utah, said Friday he is "angry, sad and disappointed that the Boy Scouts' environmental message is getting lost."
"What are they teaching these kids?" said Sinclear, who was a Boy Scout as a youth. "To me this is a double blow because we've lost something irreparable and these were Boy Scouts that should have been supervised."
Kay Godfrey, information officer for Great Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts of America, said the organization takes responsibility for the incident and may review its policies to avoid vandalism in the future.
"This reflects a disregard for the principles that Scouting promotes," Godfrey said. "It ought to be a warning to our leaders to always be aware of their surroundings and conscious of the conduct of our youth."
Sinclear said he witnessed last Thursday's destruction, seeing the splashes in the water caused by the two boys throwing the prehistoric rocks at floating buoys.
One of the 15-year-old boys put his fingers into cracks in the dinosaur tracks and pried them apart. Two other boys threw the chunks, while a fourth boy stood nearby, according to Sinclear. The teenagers' identities were not disclosed.
More than 120,000 visitors every year marvel at the site near Vernal where about 300 dinosaur tracks are preserved in beds of sandstone.
The tracks are about a foot long and 8 inches wide, according to Jim Kirkland, the state's paleontologist. At least three tracks were destroyed.
Although there are other dilophosaurus "track ways," or more than three tracks made by the same dinosaur, these were among the best, Kirkland said. The tracks, which appear to have three toes, some with claws extended, were caused by meat-eating dinosaurs that came to an oasis to drink. The prints help scientists learn about the way dinosaurs moved and their inclination to herd.
By ripping up the slabs, the boys left two scars, each about 6 inches deep, on the ground near the water. One was about 3 feet by 2 feet, the other just over a foot long. The dinosaur tracks are normally available for the public to look at and walk on. Kirkland said that is unlikely to change.
Officials said it may be possible to find some of the thrown pieces. However, much of the rock was broken and would be difficult to put together again, Sinclear said.
The boys were unsupervised on the shore because their troop leader took other boys for a ride in a boat. The group had been hiking and water-skiing in the area.
Three of the boys claimed they did not know they were destroying dinosaur prints. The fourth boy, who did not participate, said he knew what was being destroyed and that's why he did not join in.
Kirkland said a descriptive sign about the tracks had been vandalized and was not visible. He said the signs may have helped reinforce the importance of the tracks.
Sinclear filed a juvenile citation against the three boys.