Penn Dixie 2019 Budget Remarks

Penn Dixie staff attended the Erie County Budget Hearing held on November 19, 2018 to brief the legislature on the organization and advocate for funding in 2019. Below are the prepared remarks. The above video clip was recorded from Spectrum News on the following day.

Dr. Phil Stokes, Executive Director

I’m honored to speak tonight in support of Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Reserve and the cultural organizations of Erie County.

To begin, I’d like to tell you a little about my neighbors. Last year, I moved into a small house in a quiet Blasdell neighborhood. Many of my neighbors are retired and enjoy spending time outdoors during nicer weather. And, they like to talk.

A common theme among our conversations — at least those not about the Buffalo Bills ongoing struggles — is that my neighbors are proud of our community. They appreciate the opportunity to take their grandchildren to the science museum, to the zoo, and to the many theatres. They also know that they can ask me for solar eclipse viewing glasses!

I am always quick to remind my neighbors that the cultural groups in Erie County are proud to receive such strong support from our local government. You — the legislature — have listened to the community and have continued to support cultural organizations because of the tourism impact, because of the jobs created, and because of the lives affected.

At Penn Dixie, we are proud to report that one in eight of our general admissions guests come from outside of New York State. These tourists stay in local hotels, eat in local restaurants, and patronize local businesses.

Why do folks come to Buffalo to dig fossils? Well, seven years ago, Penn Dixie was named as the number one fossil park in the U.S. We achieved this ranking thanks to the long history of Erie County investments in our organization. This summer, in recognition of our tourism impact, the Hamburg Town Board declared the trilobite to be the official fossil of the Town of Hamburg. This was a thrilling achievement for Penn Dixie.

We are also proud to report that this year, our science education staff grew from 16 employees in 2017 to 20 employees during our peak season this summer. Our staff — which includes high school and college students, scientists, naturalists, astronomers, and retired teachers — appreciates the opportunity to work for a such unique cultural employer. Thanks to our dedicated staff and volunteers, our visitors consistently rave about the Penn Dixie experience.

Finally, I am excited that our director of education can be here tonight to talk about the scientific and educational value of Penn Dixie. On behalf of me and my neighbors, thank you for supporting Penn Dixie and the cultural organizations in the county executive’s 2019 budget.

Dr. Holly Schreiber, Director of Education

I want to thank the Erie County Legislature and County Executive Poloncarz for your support of Penn Dixie Fossil Park and Nature Reserve. The support from the people of Erie county for Penn Dixie is an investment in our community.

Your support allows us to continue our mission of science education. Penn Dixie is truly a geological treasure. As a paleontologist I can confidently say, there is nowhere in the world like Penn Dixie — a place where anyone can get their hands dirty and learn about geology, paleontology, and earth history from trained educators. All visitors to Penn Dixie become paleontologists, hunting for 380 million year old fossils — fossils they are allowed to take home. Our staff provide the background needed for our visitors to a fun and successful visit. Erie County is very lucky to have this awesome resource.

This year, over 15,000 people visited Penn Dixie. Approximately 5,000 of these visitors were part of educational field trips. As Dr. Stokes mentioned, one in eight visitors were from outside of WNY. This year we had visitors from 44 states, and a dozen countries — countries as far away as Japan, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea. Penn Dixie continues to be a destination for those traveling to WNY.

This year we also had two firsts for Penn Dixie — both logistical challenges. Each year we have many schools visit Penn Dixie. Field trips range in size from a single class of 20 students to an entire grade of a couple hundred students. This year for the first time we had an entire school visit. On a VERY hot day in May we welcomed over 400 students and faculty from Clarence Center Elementary school to Penn Dixie, where they all engaged in hands-on science with our educators. This August, we had a world’s first — the Guinness World Record attempt for the largest fossil dig. I’m happy to say we had over 900 visitors take part in the event — some from as far away as NYC and PA. We shattered the record requirement of 500 participants and look forward to hearing from Guinness officials.

Your investment allows Penn Dixie to continue to grow and be a resource for the people of Erie County, WNY, and beyond.

Thank you again for your support of Penn Dixie and all cultural groups.

Elizabeth Schiavoni, Development Officer

I am excited to be here tonight and thank the Erie County Legislature in person for supporting unique cultural organizations, like Penn Dixie Fossil Park and Nature Reserve.

My name is Elizabeth Schiavoni. I am a biologist and the part time Development Officer at the most accessible fossil park in the United States.

I moved to Buffalo for the science and innovation, but I stayed for the good neighbors and fascinating natural and man-made history I hope to share with the world.

For 2018, the Erie County Legislature generously awarded Penn Dixie $2,000 in addition to the county executive’s budget recommendation to keep funding the same as the previous year. That $2,000 was directly applied to organizational development. It paid for new program development and grant applications that increased Penn Dixie’s 2018 revenues by $28,000, or 12%, over last year.

You may have noticed I am a millennial, under 35. Something you may not know about millennials is their love of lifelong learning. When I sought volunteers for our Guinness World Record Attempt, I had to look no further than my peers, eager to spend a day at Penn Dixie. Science and nature educators and enthusiasts, from all over the planet, connected through social media, expressed jealousy that they could not be in Western New York on August 25th. The Director of our blossoming sister fossil park in Kashmir, India, made a special visit for the occasion. We are proud to share our experiences transforming from a Western New York volunteer led initiative to growing non-profit with the international community.

I am excited to be in Erie County, to be a part of my communities here, and to be a part of Penn Dixie as we work to build a Science and Outdoor Education Center in the South Towns serving all of Erie County and the global community of lifelong learners.

Thank you again for your support of Penn Dixie Fossil Park and Nature Reserve. I’m looking forward to giving you more great news next year.

January 20: Total Lunar Eclipse

Bundle up! You’re invited to a special offsite viewing of the Total Lunar Eclipse on Sunday January 20, 2019. Beginning at 9:30 pm, join us for a night of astronomy programs in the Gateway Building located at 3556 Lakeshore Rd. in Blasdell (14219).

Outside, our astronomers will be on hand to facilitate a mid-winter tour of the winter sky. Highlights include a bloody supermoon — featuring a total lunar eclipse where the Earth passes between the sun and the moon, turning the moon red — setting Mars, and a backdrop of winter constellations such as the Pleiades and Orion. No viewing glasses needed!

Inside, you can warm up with hot beverages and snacks in the lobby, attend one of our space talks, watch the official NASA livestream in the auditorium, or make astronomy crafts with our science educators. A limited supply of free NASA swag will be available, too. All ages welcome and no registration is required. No charge for admission thanks to our sponsors: RP Oak Hill Building Company, Inc., Erie County, and NASA.

With the exception of travel bans due to extreme weather, the program will take place from 9:30 pm until 12:30 am regardless of weather conditions. We will post relevant program updates to our social media.

Lunar Schedule

9:30 pm     Doors open, telescopes ready, indoor activities commence

9:36 pm     Penumbral Eclipse begins (Earth’s shadow touches Moon’s face)

10:33 pm   Partial eclipse begins — Moon begins to turn red

11:41 pm   Total eclipse begins — Completely red moon

12:12 am   Maximum eclipse

12:30 am   Program concludes; eclipse wanes until 1:50 am

Space Talk Schedule

9:45 pm   Eclipse Basics. Learn the difference between lunar and solar eclipses and other facts about our solar system.

10:15 pm   Telescopes 101. Receive a telescope for Christmas? We’ll help you get started with an expert demonstration and mini-workshop on telescopes.

10:45 pm   Astrophotography On A Budget. With a small investment you can take beautiful pictures of celestial objects. We’ll help you to get started.

11:15 pm   How Do We Measure In Space? Large distances such as light years and astronomical units are challenging to imagine — we’ll give you some tips for making sense of the vastness of space.

Image Credit: Jim Maroney/The Great Big Sky

More info:

August 25: VIP Visit

Update: Download Mr. Butt’s documentation on the Centre for Himalayan Geology in PDF format.

Penn Dixie has just learned that a surprise guest will join us at our attempt to set the GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ title for the World’s Largest Fossil Dig on Saturday August 25 at 9 am.

Mr. Haji Abdul Majid Butt, Geoscientist and Chairperson of the Centre for Himalayan Geology in Kashmir, will serve as grand master of the dig. Mr. Butt travels from Srinagar, the largest city and summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Afterwards, he will tour the park and meet with our board of directors and stakeholders to further develop our partnership.

Venue Change: After the dig, Penn Dixie members are invited to a 2:30 pm reception to meet Mr. Butt at Ilio DiPaolo’s Restaurant and Banquet Facility at 3785 South Park Ave. in the Village of Blasdell — approx. two miles from Penn Dixie. Lunch and coffee are included. Members: Please RSVP to Dr. Phil Stokes at to confirm your attendance.

In 2016, Mr. Butt and the Environmental Policy Group of Jammu and Kashmir created the Kashmir Triassic Fossil Park, an international preserve of scientific and educational value which captures evidence of Earth’s largest extinction event at the end of the Permian Period. Penn Dixie partnered with the new fossil park to offer guidance and share information with our Kashmiri counterparts.

The Kashmir Triassic Fossil Park, Jammu and Kashmir State of India.

In many ways, Mr. Butt’s young organization reflects our organization’s early days. Just like our founders, he is working to establish the scientific value of his park, gain community and political support, preserve land for educational use, and…build a permanent educational facility on site. We are proud to work with him towards this meritorious goal.

Admission to the big dig is reduced to $5 — preregistration strongly recommended — and we will present commemorative gifts to all guests to show our gratitude for their help. Our big dig is made possible by Evans Bank, Phillips Lytle LLP, RP Oak Hill Building Company Inc., The Hanna Family, Erie County Cultural Funding, and many others.

For full details or to register, visit our dig page.

To learn more about this partnership, check out this blog post from 2016.

A.M. Butt Biography

Mr. Butt holds a Master of Science in Geology from the University of Jammu, India as well as undergraduate degrees in gemology and industrial engineering. He worked for a government cement factory for 33 years — starting as a geologist — and rose to be general manager. Following his time at the cement factory he gained a prestigious position as Kashmir Administrative Services (KAS) Officer. He also served as general manager for Ircon International — India’s infrastructure agency — on a major tunneling project. Specializing in sapphire mining, he consulted for numerous government and private interests in India and abroad as well.

Presently Mr. Butt is developing the Kashmir Triassic Fossil Park. The park is located 16 kilometers (10 miles) from Srinagar, the largest city and the summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. He, along with local government and the state tourism department, acted to preserve and protect the land from illegal mining activities. In 2016, this goal was realized.

Besides native plants and animals, the park contains rocks and fossils from the Permian and Triassic Periods. Most notably, there is evidence of the Earth’s most deadly extinction event at the end of the Permian Period — 252 million years ago. During this global disaster 96% of all marine species — including trilobites — and 70% of all terrestrial species became extinct. Many causes are suspected.

Mr. Butt is visiting Penn Dixie to build a stronger partnership with the global community and to promote peace and tourism in his region. He would like to develop his park in the style of Penn Dixie: as an educational center, outdoor research lab, and global geological treasure. He welcomes students, scientists, and scholars to work with him and his agency towards this endeavor.

Getting to Penn Dixie

Penn Dixie is located at 4050 North Street, Blasdell, New York 14219. Since some GPS units direct visitors to the wrong location, for best results enter ‘Penn Dixie Fossil Park‘ instead of our street address. Visitors frequently report that Apple Maps directed them elsewhere; Google Maps is consistently accurate.

From the NYS Thruway:  Take Exit 56, the Blasdell exit; after the toll booth, turn right on to Rt. 179 (Milestrip Rd); at the first traffic light turn left on to South Park Avenue (Rt. 62); proceed south on South Park Avenue for 1.2 miles to the traffic circle; enter the circle and turn right on to Big Tree Road; cross a single railroad track; at the first road on the right, Bristol; turn right on to Bristol Road; proceed to the end of Bristol; turn left on to North Street; the Penn Dixie Site entrance is directly ahead.

Penn Dixie Map 1
Getting to Penn Dixie from NYS Thruway Exit 56.

From Buffalo along Rt. 5:  Proceed west on Rt. 5 from Buffalo, through Lackawanna and Woodlawn; after the Ford Motor Company Plant, take the first left on to Bay View Road, crossing over the east bound Rt. 5 traffic; proceed on Bay View Road across the railroad tracks, up the hill, to Big Tree Road (a blue & white Penn Dixie sign is at this intersection); make a left on Big Tree road proceeding east; the last road on the left is Bristol (Penn Dixie Sign); turn left, go to the end and make a left on to North Street; continue to the Penn Dixie entrance.

Penn Dixie Map 2
Penn Dixie is located at 4050 North Street off Bristol Rd. near the intersection of Big Tree Rd. and South Park Ave.

Route 5 from the west:  After passing the Hamburg Town Park on Lake Erie, proceed to the next traffic light at Big Tree Road (Hoak’s Restaurant is on left & Red Top Hot Dog stand is on the right); turn right on to Big Tree road and proceed east crossing St. Francis Drive, pass the WKBW radio towers; as the road begins to veer right continue straight on Big Tree to the stop sign at Bay View Road; continue across Bay View Road and proceed to the last road on the left, Bristol; make a left on Bristol and go to the end and make a left on to North Street;  Penn Dixie entrance is directly ahead.

From Route 20, east or west:  Take Rt. 20 to South Park Avenue turn left (east bound) or right( westbound) on to South Park Avenue;  proceed north on South Park Avenue; go under a railroad viaduct, enter the circle and turn right on to Big Tree Road; cross over the railroad track; the first road on the right, Bristol, turn right; proceed to the end of Bristol and turn left on to North Street; and the Penn Dixie entrance is directly ahead.

October 6: Stargazing

Saturday October 6, 6:30 to 9:30 pm

Our final astronomy program of the season brings us the two planets and the arrival of the autumn constellations. Without a moon, we’ll have a clear view of Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn, as well as deep space objects including NGC457 ET Cluster and M31 The Andromeda Galaxy. Admission is FREE to all! No registration needed.

October 6 2018

Sun & Moon:
Sunset will be at 6:46 pm
There will be no moon visible during the program

Mars rises at 4:27 pm
Jupiter sets at 8:29 pm
Saturn sets at 10:57 pm

The Summer Triangle  – Meridian (Vega, Deneb, & Altair)
The Big Dipper –NW
Cassiopeia – NE
Lyra –Meridian
Cygnus/Northern Cross – Meridian
Aquilla -Meridian
Sagittarius – SW
Hercules – W
Pegasus – E
Andromeda – E

M57 Ring Nebula
M13 The Great Globular Cluster in Hercules
NGC457 ET Cluster
M31 Andromeda Galaxy
Alcor & Mizar

Artist Residency Update

This summer, we teamed up with The Cass Project to create the first-ever Artist-in-Residence at Penn Dixie. After an application and judging process, we selected Bonnie Rush to create and build a meditation labyrinth modeled after a trilobite in a secluded part of our park. Given its isolation, the labyrinth will provide a relaxing place for visitors to reflect in solitude. And, of course, the labyrinth is made from fossils.

Bonnie’s Trilobite Labyrinth is nearly complete. She is looking forward to meeting members and guests on Erie County Earth Science DaySaturday October 6 — for tours at 10 am, 12 pm and 2 pm. Tours will originate at the Cass Project table under the big tent.

Artist Bio: Born into an artistic family, Bonnie was recognized as the most artistic girl in 8th grade at Holland Central School. She attained a two year vocational training certificate for Landscape and Greenhouse Management, through BOCES. Later, she drew, installed, and maintained various landscapes professionally through 2005, as well as becoming a NYSN/LA Certified Nursery Professional.

Penn Dixie Artist Bonnie Rush

She has been involved in many creative projects for friends and family in both construction, remodeling, textiles, and jewelry. She exhibited “Fiery Sunflowers” at the Erie County Fair in 2017 as well as “Resilience” at ART 24/7 in October 2017. In 2018, Bonnie was awarded the inaugural Cass Project-Penn Dixie Artist-in-residence.

May 2019: Dig With The Experts

Join us for our signature event — Dig with the Experts! This is our very popular, once yearly opportunity to unearth the best, most complete, and most unexpected fossils at Penn Dixie. We’ll have equipment do the heavy lifting and scientific experts on site to help with locating and identifying the best fossils. You’ll have to do your share of splitting and digging, of course, but you’re guaranteed to find something cool and interesting.

Saturday May 18: 9 am to 4 pm
Sunday May 19: 9 am to 4 pm
Monday May 20: 9 am to 4 pm (limited staffing)

Expert volunteers — including scientists, leading fossil collectors, and experts on local geology — will lead the dig in a freshly excavated section of the Lower Windom Shale and will demonstrate how to find Devonian Period trilobites, cephalopods, fish remains, brachiopods, corals, wood, and a range of other marine invertebrates. Thanks to our experts, we are celebrating our 15th dig in 2019! Saturday participants will receive a special commemorative gift.

But, wait — there’s more! ‘Paleo’ Joe Kchodl will once again join us for a special science talk the evening before the dig. Paleo Joe will present: The Fossil Adventures of PaleoJoe at on Friday May 17 at 6:30 pm in the Gateway Building Auditorium, 3556 Lakeshore Road in Blasdell, NY. This family-friendly presentation is FREE for Penn Dixie members ANDregistered dig guests, or $5 for the public. No reservations needed.

Saturday May 18: Members $35, non-members $40
Sunday May 19: Members $20, non-members $25, under 18 $15
Weekend Pass: Members $45, non-members $55 – SAVE $10
Monday May 20: Included for all guests.

Director’s Notes: This special program will sell out — please reserve early. We offer a limited number of Child (under age 18) tickets for Sunday at $15 each. We do not recommend that children under age 7 attend this program due to the technical and safety requirements. Other areas of Penn Dixie will be open to fossil collectors of all ages. Children must be accompanied at all times. Tickets are electronic and will not be mailed.

International Guests: Please contact us with your name, order info (i.e., dates, numbers and types of tickets), and membership status. We’ll send you a PayPal invoice directly.

Dig with the Experts draws collectors from around the globe for this unique opportunity, which was developed and is currently co-led by our friends from the Cincinnati Dry Dredgers. Bring a hammer, chisel, safety glasses, newspaper, and paper towels to wrap your fossils. Extra water is recommended, plus bring rain gear just in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Food trucks will be on site Saturday and Sunday to serve lunch. Guests are welcome to bring their own food and beverages, as well as a small cart to transport personal items and specimens. Chairs and umbrellas are okay, too. We thank Zoladz Construction Co., Inc. for their help to get Penn Dixie ready for this big event.

Additional information:

Buffalo ranked America’s favorite city to visit, upstaging all competitors

Penn Dixie Frequently asked questions

Report on 2016 Dig with the Experts

Updates from 2016 Dig with the Experts