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.

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 AND registered dig guests, or $5 for the public. No reservations needed.

Saturday May 18: SOLD OUT
Sunday May 19: SOLD OUT
Weekend Pass: SOLD OUT
Monday May 20: Included for all guests.

Director’s Notes: This program will sell out — please reserve early. In commemoration of our 15th dig, we offer Child (under age 18) tickets for Sunday’s dig at $15 each. Children are welcome to attend on Saturday at the regular rate. We do not recommend that children under age 7 attend this program due to the technical and safety requirements. During Dig With The Experts, other areas of Penn Dixie will be open to fossil collectors of all ages and regular tours will be available. Children must be accompanied at all times. Tickets are electronic and will not be mailed.

International Guests: Please email Dr. Phil Stokes at 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

Celebrating Penn Dixie’s Heroes

Celebrating Penn Dixie’s Heroes: Eileen Eich, Liz Gonsiorek, and Sheila Kelly

By Elizabeth Schiavoni, Development & Marketing Officer

I met Eileen Eich on the Penn Dixie site in the Summer of 2017. She spoke excitedly from her wheelchair about climbing over the piles of rocks and collecting fossils on the site in the 1970s, before it was a Fossil Park and Nature Reserve. Accompanied by her daughter, Judy Klump, who shared fond memories of the site and the role her mother played in creating the site’s operating organization, the Hamburg Natural History Society in 1993.

In the single month I spent with HNHS, up to meeting Eileen, I consistently heard the same levels of enthusiasm for the fossil pits and the people who love them from volunteers, members, and visitors. As a lifelong volunteer for community resources, I was curious about the origins of this dedication. Available copies of the Hamburg Sun and Buffalo News from the 1980s and 1990s and Town of Hamburg meeting minutes tell a story of environmental activism and unwavering citizens answering a call to civic duty.

Standing: Sheila Kelly (left) and Liz Gonsiorek (right). Seated: Eileen Eich.

The next time I saw Eileen, Judy was helping her with the door of the Town of Hamburg Community Center on a warm evening in September. The HNHS staff and President of the Board of Directors waited in the billiard room to hear the story of the founding of the organization from her and two other unwavering citizens invited by Judy.

Liz Gonsiorek regularly wrote about the threat of industrial development on the Penn Dixie site in local papers as developers showed interest from 1989 to 1992. While talking about pleasant walks on the site Liz noted her motivation, “I’m always interested in more green space and preserving that type of activity for people.”

Sheila Kelly also signed on opinion articles for the preservation of the land with Liz and Eileen. She later stayed with the HNHS in different leadership roles until the mid 2000’s. She was honored for her outstanding service to the organization in 2002. Eileen, Liz, and Sheila all attended town meetings arguing against development and for preservation. Liz reflected, “I was really happy that other people were interested in doing something like this.”

The original HNHS banner hangs in our office above Dr. Holly’s desk.

The circle of community leaders in cushioned chairs by the fireplace represented generations of support for preserving the Penn Dixie site. The conversation was peppered with light and joyous, recollections of time on the site with family. Judy joking, “I never went there,” for partying when her elders brought up the bonfires. Liz sat with a thick file folder on her lap, pulling out articles, records, and pictures throughout the night. The interview moved down the timeline as Sheila described the group of volunteers drawn to preserving the land becoming the HNHS.

The Town Board appointed Eileen, Sheila, and five other volunteers to a committee on the possible development and management of the site on March 9th, 1993. That May they took their case to the Bayview and Big Tree Neighborhoods surrounding the site during informational meetings for homeowners. The Town purchased the land to be deeded to the HNHS on February 27th, 1995. Sheila believes the date of the first HNHS site cleanup on July 11th, 1996 marks the true beginning of the organization. Liz agreed. “It took a long time to get to the point where we could say we’re going to have a cleanup,” Said Sheila. “I don’t know how many dumpsters of tires and construction debris we picked up. I think some cars were buried in the mud,” she added.

Penn Dixie 1990s display
Penn Dixie library display from the 1990s. Picture provided by Liz Gonsiorek.

Discussing the level of safety on the site since the volunteer powered cleanups throughout the 1990s lead to the topic of restrictive covenants. Anything going in on the rest of the land that wasn’t the fossil park, “had to be low industrial,” Sheila explained. The present executive director Phil Stokes asked, “So you got it so that the other developments around there wouldn’t be polluting the air?” Liz put it succinctly, “you’re not going to have this park and then have another chemical plant go in.” She thumbed through her file and revealed the relevant paper dating the restrictive covenants to 1992.

I asked about the group acquisition of the wetlands adjacent to the fossil pits in the following years and Sheila confirmed the restrictive covenants made that easier. She continued, “But we were really busy then. I mean we went everywhere. We had poster boards.” Liz put her finger on a picture of the group’s display and passed it around the circle. The text “A Geological Treasure! Right Here in Hamburg!” surrounds a treasure chest on a board above a case of rocks and fossils. Judy looks at the picture and remarks, “I used to do that with Mom. We went to different libraries.” Judy dates the experience to 1995 and 1996 when her own son was 3 and 4 years old and would help with their educational outreach.

We chatted about the town officials, science teachers, dedicated volunteers, and first staff members that aided the group’s growth in those first few years. Eileen conveyed her delight that people came, “from Las Vegas and California, just to visit us.” Eileen also commented on Sheila’s long term commitment to the organization. I asked Sheila if there was anything that she ever wanted to see happen when she worked with the group that didn’t happen. She couldn’t think of anything. “I think they really exceeded expectations. I never thought in my imagination that it would ever be this big.”