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.