These Dinosaur Tracks Are 200 Million Years Old, but Tourists Keep Ripping Them Up

Forget initials carved into trees or litter tossed by the side of a trail—Red Fleet State Park in Utah has bigger vandalism problems. Tourists have been tearing up slabs of ancient rock and tossing them into a nearby reservoir, the Utah State Parks blog reported.

These chunks of rust-colored sandstone are marked with the 200-million-year-old footprints of dinosaurs.

"It's become quite a big problem," Utah Division of State Parks spokesman Devan Chavez told The Salt Lake Tribune. "They're just looking to throw rocks off the side. What they don't realize is these rocks they're picking up, they're covered in dinosaur tracks."

Although some tracks are very distinct, "just as many are not," Park Manager Josh Hansen told the parks blog.

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Monument Valley Tribal Park. Utah's parks, including Red Fleet State Park, are famed for their red rock. Charles Platiau/Reuters

Scientists think this northeastern chunk of Utah desert park was once a bog. Eight-foot raptors left their footprints in the swampy ground. Now, 200 million years later, they are the jewels in the crown of a park visited by thousands of people every year.

Related: NASA: Dinosaur footprint discovery reveals ancient feeding frenzy in space agency's own backyard

Hansen recently stopped a young boy tossing a track-imprinted rock into the water. The kid had already thrown at least two in the reservoir, the Tribune reported. Visitors turned vandals have been chipping away at the sandstone heavily over the past six months. At least 10 tracks have been vandalized, the parks blog stated.

Some slabs sink underwater, but some are destroyed on impact and others simply dissolve, the Tribune reported.

The park has installed extra signs warning visitors not to disturb these ancient rocks. To do so, Hansen said, is a crime. "It is illegal to displace rocks that contain the tracks," he told the parks blog. "Disturbing them like this is an act of vandalism."

Related: Ancient human footprints are oldest ever found in North America

Park officials are no strangers to this particular crime. In 2001, three Boy Scouts faced juvenile court charges for tossing rocks into the Red Fleet Reservoir. At the time, divers came back with about 90 percent of the discarded footprints, The New York Times reported. The park may send divers in this time around as well.

"This has been an ongoing problem that we really would like to stop," Chavez told The Washington Post. "These tracks are an important part of what makes Red Fleet State Park such a beautiful and special place. Being able to walk, hike and even swim or boat next to where dinosaurs once stood is an amazing feeling."