Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012 | 2 a.m.
They call him the Dinosaur Man.
He lives at 733 Greenway Road in Henderson at a place he calls Shang-Gri-La-Prehistoric Park, but the kids who know it, he says, have taken to calling it the Dinosaur House. His front yard is like a scene out of "Jurassic Park." There is a velociraptor, two triceratops and a blue brontosaurus. Baby dinosaurs hatch from eggs on the ground next to dinosaur bones and smaller dinosaurs, and three dinosaurs are on the roof.
Everything is dwarfed, however, by the most popular dinosaur of all — front and center is a Tyrannosaurus rex almost the size of his one-story home.
The Dinosaur Man has a name; it’s Steve Springer. He’s a retired sixth- and seventh-grade English teacher from Lyal Burkholder Middle School. In 2005, he hatched the idea to send his front yard back to the prehistoric ages. Since then, the yard and dinosaurs have taken on a life of their own, and he couldn’t be more thrilled.
“I get pleasure out of seeing a kid’s eyes light up, and by kids, I mean of all ages,” Springer said. “That smile comes on their face, just makes me feel good. I guess it’s a little selfish.”
Before becoming the Dinosaur Man, Springer, 60, had dedicated his life to teaching. He taught middle school for 30 years — he had wanted to be a teacher since the second grade. He loved the interaction with kids, teaching them with goofy humor and positive reinforcement.
He also loves to collect and organize. He majored in library science in college and has a collection of movies that would put a Blockbuster to shame. The dinosaur-filled yard offered the perfect opportunity to combine his two interests.
“When you’re teaching, you’re involved with a lot of people all the time,” Springer said. “So it’s given me a chance to stay out there and meet new people.”
He came up with the idea a year after his retirement, when a portion of his front yard was torn up during construction on his street. He decided he wanted to do something special with the yard. Four months later, he came up with the perfect idea: Why not dinosaurs?
“I decided to put something in that would give everybody a 60-second smile they need to make their day better, whether they’re going to work, coming home, whatever,” Springer said. “Something that they would go by and go, ‘Whoa,’ and they’d smile.’”
The first dinosaur he purchased was Boris the brontosaurus. From there, he had the dinosaurs shipped from Chicago, movie studios in California, museums and a lawn sculpture shop called Outdoor Living in Henderson. He’s had to redesign the yard several times to squeeze in all the dinosaurs, and he had the T. rex assembled with a crane.
The dinosaurs cost anywhere from $1,500 to, well, dinosauric proportions. Springer has a simple explanation for how he affords it all: “I’m single,” he said with a matter-of-fact shoulder shrug.
He estimates that 7,000 to 10,000 people come to look at his yard every year (slowing down to stare counts, he says). He encourages passers-by to get out and explore the park, and he even passes out miniature dinosaurs to visitors when he’s home.
The neighborhood isn’t part of a homeowners association, so Springer isn’t limited by HOA rules regarding yard statuary. Neighbors, he said, don’t seem to mind, either, with at least one expressing interest in starting their own similar display.
Kids also have taken the park as their own, calling him out when something is different, like the time he removed a dinosaur to be repainted.
“One of them goes, ‘Hey, you got a dinosaur missing,’” Springer said. “I go, ‘Are you sure?’ … Next week the dinosaur came back all redone, and they’re like, ‘Hey it’s a different color.’ They’re paying attention.”
He also decorates for every holiday. For Halloween he added shrunken heads, dismembered body parts, spiders and a giant, blow-up Frankenstein. He changes the 250 light bulbs he uses to illuminate the park by hand to match the holiday.
For Springer, the upkeep and cost is all worth it for the reaction he gets. Strangers have stopped him outside his home to show Facebook photos of them at his house. Families have left notes on his door.
He once received a Christmas card from a family explaining that his home is the only way they can calm their autistic child when he gets upset.
Another note called out one of his mistakes when he decorated for Halloween:
"We love your dinosaurs, but my 6-year-old said you forgot the triceratops is an herbivore. You have a foot in its mouth." (Springer said he removed the foot promptly).
Springer said the prehistoric park has taken over his identity. While he’d like to be remembered for his teaching, he’s just as happy being known as the Dinosaur Man.
CORRECTION: Outdoor Living is in Henderson, not Boulder City. | (November 6, 2012)