- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2000

]Journey back to a time when dinosaurs ruled the world at Dinosaur Land Gift Shop and Theme Park in White Post, Va., deep in the Shenandoah Valley.

Billed as "a prehistoric forest coming to life from the past," Dinosaur Land is a charming 2.5-acre fenced park containing 43 life-size or oversize fiberglass likenesses of prehistoric animals, complete with informational signs. The statues are immobile, and the varying degrees of authenticity inspire chuckles or awe depending on the age, knowledge and disposition of the visitor.

"Spectacular and colossal," the brochure says. "Out of this world. Unbelievable but true." Those statements are right in many ways. Stroll among the pines along Stegosaurus Drive or Triceratops Road and pat a mylodon, a ground sloth that lived 1 million to 10 million years ago. See a plateosaurus, one of the early dinosaurs, known as the "king of the swamp."

Witness an "epic battle" between a formidable 20-foot tyrannosaur and a titanosaur precariously balancing on two legs, its heaving side torn open to expose the rib cage. Stare into the hypnotizing eyes of a giant cobra. A cobra? Well, anyway, the children love it, just as they love the massive shark, the giant bugs and King Kong, which soundlessly beckons visitors to sit in his hand for photo opportunities.

For John and Diana Veilleux and their son, Jed, 4, of Derwood, the campiness of Dinosaur Land is a welcome break from over-the-top attractions.

"We have been to a lot of amusement parks lately," Mr. Veilleux says. "A lot of places are fairly commercialized. This isn't like that. It's pretty relaxed. 'Low-key' is definitely a factor here."

Dinosaur Land was conceived in 1962 by businessman Joe Geraci, who had spotted some dinosaur replicas on a Florida golf course, according to his daughter, Barbara Seldon.

"My father liked them so much that he tracked down the man who made them and had him build several larger versions for him," Mrs. Seldon says. The dinosaurs were shipped in segments to White Post, where they were assembled and used as attractions outside Mr. Geraci's gift shop.

Several pieces grew into a collection, Mrs. Seldon says, and Dinosaur Land was hatched. Mr. Geraci and his wife ran the park for 25 years, adding a prehistoric likeness every so often. Mrs. Seldon, 63, who owns a tractor-sales store in West Virginia with her husband, took over the business in 1987 with her sister, Joann Leight, 61, a kindergarten teacher in Stephens City, Va.

"Lots of the signs and information were wrong before we took over," Mrs. Seldon says. "But we spent a lot of time researching dinosaurs, so we are pretty confident that everything is right now."

Mrs. Seldon says Dinosaur Land sees 300 to 400 visitors every Sunday, and most are not local folks, but people who have made the 1*-hour trip from the Washington area because they were lured by word of mouth or more and more, she says the Web site.

"Occasionally, we'll get someone who says it isn't worth the trip [it] doesn't take them but five minutes to walk through there," Mrs. Seldon says. Then again, she explains, "We have people who came long ago with their small children and now are bringing their grandchildren."

Then there is Jake West, 5, a Stephens City boy who visits the park so frequently several times a week that Mrs. Seldon and her sister have sold his parents an annual pass.

You run across all kinds of people when you run an amusement park, Mrs. Seldon says: "We have had people who ask us, 'Are they real?' And we say, 'Yeah, but we fed them this morning, so you'll be OK in there.' "

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