Prehistoric Forest in Irish Hills, Michigan, USA was a small amusement park with a dinosaur theme. It was built to take advantage of the blossoming tourist trade along US Route 12 but as the interstates were built, the area saw less traffic. Prehistoric Forest was closed in 1999.
The area known as Irish Hills in southeastern Michigan was named so after a number of Irish families settled there between 1830 and 1850. In the 1920s, it began to become popular as a tourist destination with many Summer homes and cabins being built. The area was renowned for its natural beauty with rolling hills and a number of lakes. Its location on the main route between Detroit and Chicago was also seen as beneficial.
A number of family-oriented tourist traps opened up along US Route 12. An old west theme park known as Stagecoach Stop USA was followed by a dinosaur amusement park called Prehistoric Forest in 1963.
Prehistoric Forest had a number of attractions. A train ride transported visitors back in time as it weaved its way through the forest. 63 fibre glass dinosaurs created by sculptor James Q. Sidwell greeted guests. A walking tour took explorers closer to the dinosaurs and educated them on diet and habitat. There was the Jungle Rapids Water Slide which was over 400 ft (122 metres) high. There was a maze, interactive digging pits and an active man-made volcano. There was a train ride through The Land of The Leprechaun which attempted to exploit the area’s connection to Ireland.
The number of visitors to the park began to decline in the 1980s as Irish Hills fell out of popularity and tourist traffic along US Route 12 declined. New destination theme parks such as Walt Disney World and Six Flags attracted guests away from the smaller amusement parks. Prehistoric Forest managed to continue on for a number of years before eventually closing in 1999.
The fibre glass figures were subjected to acts of vandalism even before the amusement park closed. In 1985, three figures were stolen and found at a nearby high school. Cameras were installed following another similar incident in which a neanderthal man was placed on the roof of another school. An incident in 2012 saw extensive damage caused by a number of students who had trespassed on the property. They were identified and charged.
Some of the features of the park were sold over the years but between the vandalism and the effects of nature, it has begun to fall into disrepair. It has been for sale for a number of years with no real interest to date.
Ironically, Irish Hills now sees about 300,000 fans a year for NASCAR races at Michigan International Speedway.