The name “Deerassic Park” evokes thoughts of dinosaur entertainment and education venues gone wrong—overrun by their exhibits. While Deerassic Park Educational Center in Cambridge, Ohio shares the same focus on species education, its goal is not to bring back creatures from extinction but to educate everyone, across the nation, on the importance of the whitetail deer—especially to the economy and ecosystem of Ohio. The name comes from one of the center’s original inhabitants, a massive whitetail buck nicknamed “Dinosaur.” The founders of the center asked themselves where “Dinosaur” should live. Deerassic Park was the obvious answer. Dinosaur’s silhouette serves as the logo of Deerassic Park and, when he died of old age, his antlers were mounted in the center.
According to Mark Meeker, executive director at Deerassic Park, Deerassic Park “was founded back in 1996, one of the founding reasons for it was to kind of celebrate the white-tailed deer…to collect all of the state records and all that other stuff and like just kind of celebrate it, to show off to everybody how important that animal is, you know, it’s our state mammal here in Ohio, but…the understanding [is lacking] of how much revenue it brings into the economy here.” In other terms, Deerassic is not focused on hunting, but on conservation and the role the whitetail deer plays not only in Ohio but nationally, the full name of the center being the National Whitetail Deer Education Foundation.
Meeker stated that though they have youth hunts throughout the year for kids with disabilities and new youth hunters, “our goal is not to sit here and try to turn everybody into a hunter.” Over 12,000 kids visit the center each year from several different states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, to learn from Meeker and his staff and to see Deerassic’s educational deer herd. Meeker noted that the mission of Deerassic Park is not to create a generation of hunters. He said, “When the kids come out, we do not talk much about hunting. We teach that hunting is important to control population and conservation…we want to bring everybody in and our goal is to have everybody come and enjoy the outdoors.” Meeker elaborated, noting that the goal of their educational programs is to “Get kids away from video games and watching TV and get outside and enjoy.”
When asked how Deerassic Park plans to do this, Meeker responded enthusiastically. “One of the big things that we’ve been teaching here is we do a lot of archery…and we just put in a gun range…and we’re teaching safety…and we’re also teaching just because you have a firearm or just because you have a bow doesn’t’ mean you have to go shoot something with it…it’s an outdoor activity, you’re learning safety…you’re just kinda being outside, like I said that’s kind of our whole goal.”
Regarding the deer herd, Meeker noted that “all of our deer come from a captive herd… [we want] people to come out and see them in their natural habitat.” While Deerassic may be termed an “attraction,” it is certainly not a petting zoo. Meeker noted that while they do “have some tamer deer that the kids can feed,” tame bucks are out of the question, as a buck without fear of humans is a very dangerous thing. Technically, Deerassic is considered a deer farm, but one with a certified herd. This means that they regularly test their deer to make sure that they are healthy and when deer die on the property, they are tested for chronic wasting disease as part of a monitoring program. At Deerassic Park, the biggest killer is pneumonia, which annually claims between two and three deer from Deerassic’s approximately 40-deer herd.
What is in the future for Deerassic Park? Meeker showed great passion in his response. “Our long term goal is, once we get this established here we want to move to other states, cause we’re in the process of getting everything finalized to build the Ohio Whitetail Hall of Fame so then we can move a Deerassic Park to…Pennsylvania somewhere and have the Pennsylvania Whitetail Hall of Fame and a Deerassic Park out there so our goal is to try to spread out nationally.”
The Deerassic Park Education Center is a 501c3 nonprofit corporation. The center hosts the Deerassic Classic Giveaway every summer to raise the funds for the rest of the year’s activities. As Meeker puts it, “It is the one weekend we have for the year that is not for the kids. For the kids it's 51 weeks out of the year, we have one adult week but that raises all the money for everything we do the rest of the year.” The event, famous for its raffles and prizes, also includes exhibitors and country music acts, drawing nearly 25,000 people. Meeker emphasized Deerassic’s focus on building partnerships with other organizations through joint youth events and in buying prizes for the giveaway. “We’re able to create a bond where it’s not us going around just asking for free stuff everywhere, we’re actually partnering with them where if they support us we’re sitting there paying them and supporting them.” Those interested in visiting or supporting Deerassic’s mission can visit https://deerassic.com/ for more information.