Monty gives back with birthday bash

Now that it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, even dinosaurs are thinking pink. That includes Monty, the region's resident T-Rex, who sports a giant pink ribbon this weekend.

The Dinosaur Place, the indoor and outdoor education center on Route 85 in Montville, is turning its annual celebration of the iconic statue's birthday into a community affair, including support for Lawrence & Memorial Hospital's breast and cervical cancer early detection program.

"Monty's Fall Festival," held every Columbus Day weekend, is a big fall event for the family-owned business. This year's celebration features local entertainment, crafts and fun, from musicians and magicians to face painters and Circle K Farms' live animal petting zoo. Even the long-neck gourds that kids can paint were grown on Plant Lot Farms in Oakdale. Dinosaur cookies, baked by students at Grasso Tech High School, round out each day. All of the activities are covered by park admission price or season pass membership.

Since the events runs over three days, with a mix of outdoor and indoor attractions, there are a few rain dates built in. The festival highlight performance, Steve Elci and Friends, the nationally-known children's music group from Waterford, is scheduled for Sunday afternoon, with a rain date of Monday.

"This is our season to be local, and we value the support of the local community," says Laura Rush, marketing manager "We could celebrate Monty's birthday in the summer when there are more tourists around, but we really wanted to make it something that the community really feels involved in, and we want local people to enjoy and to give them back something extra."

The center plans to donate $1 of each admission fee, up to $500, to Lawrence & Memorial Hospital's breast and cervical cancer early detection program.

"The program is designed to help medically underserved women by offering breast and cervical cancer screenings, diagnostic services and treatment free of charge," says Laurel Holmes, director of Community Health, Outreach and Partnerships at L & M Hospital. "It's great to see a local business working to help support this community program."

Locals are used to the looming dinosaurs, but they may not realize the continual expansion and evolution planned by owners Linda and Roger Phillips to make the place a larger destination for kids at heart, regardless of their age.

The big guys - more than 30 life-size concrete and steel replicas of dinosaurs - take command over the outdoor adventure area, which includes trails, Monty's playground, a life-size maze with walls tall enough to confound adults, and a summertime splash pad attraction.

Indoor activities revolve around the Jackpot Mine where kids can dig for crystals and stones; Thunder Creek where they pan for "gold"; and the Bone Zone to unearth fossils.

Educational displays take patrons on a mineralogical and fossil trip around the world and explain fluorescence minerals that glow in the dark. There's also a shop with everything from toys and games, fossils, crystals and geode rocks, an impressive collection for beading enthusiasts and, of course, anything to do with dinosaurs.

The owners plan to open their next attraction, an antique market and museum, next spring that will appeal to more adults, as well as children. The upcoming technology museum will depict life before computers and cell phones. Visitors can expect to see everyday conveniences and appliances, from hand-crank washing machines to the contemporary rarity, a phone booth.

Rush notes, "We're really looking at this as more of a campus, with more activities for all members of the family."


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