Eons - OK, decades - before there was Jurassic Park, there was Prehistoric Forest.
But after 47 years of enchanting forests full of tourists along Lake Erie's southern shoreline with replica reptiles, the attraction near Marblehead likely will fade into extinction at the end of this summer.
Owners Len and Denise Tieman, who have owned the 10-acre Prehistoric Forest and Mystery Hill since 1994, plan to retire in September, effectively ending the site's nearly five decades of fun on the Marblehead peninsula.
A former journeyman electrician, Mr. Tieman said he and his wife purchased the site while he was recuperating from cancer surgery.
"We were just driving by, and we saw that it was overgrown and falling apart," the 63-year-old said yesterday.
The next decade and a half was spent working long hours building dinosaurs, adding attractions, and watching the faces of young visitors light up with joy as they traveled back to prehistoric times.
"Just seeing the kids having fun and having a good time has been the best," Mr. Tieman said. "I like kids. I like to see them smile and have a good time."
The park - which includes rental cabins and a miniature golf course along with its fiber-glass reptiles - won't be sold unless some private buyer wants to make Mr. Tieman an offer. Either way, he said, after working 14 to 16 hours a day over the last 15 summers, he's hanging up the tools that added flowing fog to the park's volcano exhibit.
"Usually, we're open in September, but this year we may not be. We're figuring the week after Labor Day will be our last week," Mr. Tieman said.
For Samantha Stewart, 21, who lives in Marblehead and has worked in the park for the last seven seasons, the end will bring sadness along with memories.
"I love it here. I'm so sad they're closing it," the junior at Bowling Green State University said. "It was my first job when I was 14 back in 2003."
For Miss Stewart, the best part of summer has been watching the faces of the park's youngest visitors, especially as they walk through Mystery Hill, a house that's built on a steep angle.
"It's a crooked house, and they're not used to it, so they stumble quite a bit. It's kind of sick humor, but it's fun to watch," she said.
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