Dinosaur safari hits Haywood this weekend

Becky Johnson, The Mountaineer, Waynesville, N.C.
·3 min read

Feb. 26—A Jurassic Park-style dinosaur hunt is coming to Haywood County Feb. 26-28, with an interactive drive-thru exhibit taking over the giant expo building at the Smoky Mountain Event Center.

Kids can even take aim at the life-like dinosaurs with Nerf guns from their vehicle windows, and while there won't be electric fences to keep the dinos in, there's zero risk of being eaten.

Dinosaur handler Ed Bounds has a collection of more than 50 dinosaurs that he takes on the road with his traveling show called Dakota and Friends — the namesake of one of his prized specimens. He hatched his dinosaurs from eggs gathered during time-traveling adventures to the late-Cretaceous period.

"When they hatch, they imprint. That's my story and I'm sticking to it," Bounds said.

Bounds came up with the drive-thru version of his traveling dinosaur show as a COVID adaptation.

"My mission is to get these dinosaurs in front of any kid who wants to see them," Bounds said. "When COVID hit, I thought 'What am I going to do?' So I decided to set up at county fairgrounds and let folks drive through."

Bounds has revelled in bringing a fun, positive experience to families across the state during the pandemic.

"They can hunt them with their eyes, with their cameras and with their nerf blasters. People are having a ball with it," Bounds said.

He has a particular affinity for bringing the show to smaller, rural communities. The Smoky Mountain Events Center was able to land the show thanks to a pre-existing relationship with Bounds, who performed during the county fair in 2019.

While kids won't be able to collect the Nerf gun bullets they shoot, Bounds will donate them to a camp for kids with cancer that he spends a week at each summer. Aside from just driving through, a crew Bound's dinosaur keepers will showcase different dinosaurs along the way.

The world of dinosaurs

Bounds became a dinosaur handler quite by happenstance. A long-time volunteer in the chimp habitat at the N.C. Zoo in Asheboro, he was pressed into service during a dinosaur program at the zoo one day. Bounds had an epiphany after seeing how enthralled and excited the kids were with the dinosaur puppet he held.

"Parents could not drag their kids away," Bounds said.

So he quit his six-figure sales job to become a dinosaur showman.

"I'd already set aside enough money to make it through life and decided to do something like Fred Rogers to empower children," Bounds said. "I aimed for Fred Rogers and landed somewhere between Peewee Herman and Captain Kangaroo."

Bounds has been amassing his dinosaur herd for a decade. His natural charisma, enthusiasm and showmanship are contagious when it comes to dinosaurs — a passion many children share but that Bounds never outgrew.

"When I got to high school, they were all playing football and I still loved dinosaurs," Bounds said. "I was that guy. I was nerdy before it was cool."

The dinosaur safari will run from noon-6 p.m. Friday and Sunday, and noon-8 p.m. Saturday. The cost is $20 per carload in advance, and $30 at the door, with a special VIP experience for $150. Anyone who runs out of Nerf gun bullets can buy more, at a cost of $5 for 50.

Families who can't afford the gate cost can come anyway, however, as Bounds doesn't want any kids to be denied the experience. Bounds also offers a special session for special needs children an hour early, with each child being catered to depending on their needs.

To get tickets in advance online, go to dinoparties.com and click on the link to the ticketing site.