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January 11, 2009

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Sunday, January 11, 2009

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The third annual Dino Day festival at the Virginia Museum of Natural History on Saturday attracted many people - including some area residents - who never had visited the museum before.

Sandra Turner of Ridgeway brought her 4-year-old daughter, Samantha, to the museum to see the dinosaur exhibits.

"I like the dinosaurs with the sharp teeth and little feet," Samantha Turner said with a smile.

"It's an adventure for her to get out and see new things," Sandra Turner said.

"Children love our Dino Days," said Carolyn Seay, the museum's special events manager. "They're intrigued by dinosaurs."

"They probably know as much about dinosaurs as our scientists," she laughed.

Sandra Turner added that she thinks the museum is beautiful. She said that before Saturday, she simply had not had time to drop by for a visit.

Museum visitors saw life-size models of dinosaurs, some of which move and make noises, and learned about the prehistoric creatures by watching a film and attending an educational play performed by Carlisle School students.

However, Aric Lawrence, 5, of Martinsville, said he was fascinated by all of the natural history detailed at the museum.

"What a great asset to the community," said his mother, Mary Lawrence, who was another first-time visitor. "I like the way everything is explained. And, you can touch things."

Aric's father, Rich Lawrence, said he was impressed that museum exhibits focus on Virginia's natural history.

The museum is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It spent most of its history in a former school building on Douglas Avenue but moved into a spacious new building on Starling Avenue in early 2007.

Executive Director Tim Gette said Dino Day attracted people from as far away as the Roanoke Valley and Northern Virginia, plus North Carolina.

"Whoever thought five years ago you would see people coming from miles around to go to a museum in Martinsville," Gette said.

Officials have said the new building is luring visitors from farther distances to the state's natural history museum than the old building did.

While the festival focused on the dinosaur exhibits, visitors could stop by exhibits on various aspects of natural history.

The main purpose of the festival was to lure people to the museum so they "hopefully will have a good time," said Marketing Associate Zach Ryder.

Also during the festival, the museum's newest exhibit was unveiled. It is a 500 million-year-old stromatolite discovered in June at the Boxley Materials Blue Ridge Quarry in Bedford County.

A stromatolite is a mound produced in shallow water by mats of algae that trap mud and sand particles. It gets larger over time as more and more mats grow on trapped sediment layers, according to museum officials.

Five hundred million years ago, Bedford County was closer to the ocean than it is now, museum officials said.

The stromatolite discovered at the quarry is 5 feet 8 inches in diameter and weighs 4,050 pounds. It is one of the best stromatolites ever discovered and will be on permanent display at the museum, according to Assistant Curator of Paleontology Alton Dooley.

"We're extremely fortunate to find this" at the quarry, said Bill Hamlin, vice president of aggregate operations at Boxley. "We are glad for it to be displayed ... where lots and lots and lots of people can see it."

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