The Walking With Dinosaurs exhibit has really made a name for itself in Harrison County since opening to the public, free of charge. The fun continued Sunday afternoon, as hundreds of spectators got to see a paleontologist in action.
When Zachary Heck was a child, he decided he wanted to be a paleontologist when he grew up. Since then, the West Virginia University geology student has never looked back.
"Numerous people have told me, 'Oh, you're going to change,' but even as a senior student in college, I have stayed the same. I just love it. I can still be a big kid. Even at the age of 40+, I can still be a kid," said Heck.
That passion for dinosaurs is what inspired Heck to serve as a mentor to hundreds of children on Sunday, as part of the "Meet a Paleontologist" event at the Harrison County Recreation Complex.
"I've just always loved teaching kids, showing kids what I've learned," said Heck.
Heck joined his mentor, paleontologist Ray Garton, to demonstrate how the matrix, or rock, is removed from a fossil.
"They were shaving off the rock of a shoulder blade. I thought that was pretty cool to see bones," said 11-year-old Dakota Cottrill.
"...Pocahontas County, most counties in the state we've found things. Not dinosaurs, but we've found ancestors of dinosaurs," said Garton.
For Harrison County Parks & Recreation, Sunday's turnout was a milestone for the "Walking With Dinosaurs" exhibit, which made its debut last month.
"We got some big numbers: 680 people have been in visiting us today to see the exhibit and meet Ray, the paleontologist, and that topped 4,000 for the event so far," said Mike Book of Harrison County Parks & Recreation.
"We've had people come in and say, they've never been to Pittsburgh, they've never been to a major museum, they've always wanted to see a dinosaur skeleton, for example...so it's just the education. We've met so many wonderful people here today, little girls who want to be paleontologists," said Garton.
Those adoring fans are what makes the preparation and hard work all worth it in the end.
"Probably the best is their smiles...seeing their smiles whenever they come up," said Heck.
"Walking With Dinosaurs" will wrap up March 30, but organizers said they've already selected next year's exhibit theme: The Ice Age.