Spring Homeschool Day

Monday May 4, 10 am to 1 pm

Rain date: Wednesday May 6, 10 am to 1 pm

Learn about the geological history of Western New York at Penn Dixie! This special program for homeschoolers includes a complete educational tour of Penn Dixie led by our trained educators. All participants are welcome to take home all the fossils they find!

Registration opens late March and is $6 per student — save $1 per student with early registration. Children must be accompanied by an adult. There is no charge for children aged two and under. Program is for grades 1-12; please specify your child’s grade when registering. Register by Monday April 27 to receive $1 off admission. Registration closes at 5 pm on Friday May 1.

The program begins promptly at 10 am; check-in at 9:30. Please arrive 10-15 minutes early to allow for check-in, bathroom use, other preparations. Younger siblings of students are welcome. One free adult/chaperone is included with every registered student. Siblings and additional adults are welcome at $6 per person.

Fossil hunting tools are provided to all attendees. We encourage you to bring your own bucket or bags to store fossils.

If you are unable to register online, please contact Dr. Holly Schreiber at holly@penndixie.org or 716-627-4560 to reserve a space. For these guests we will accept cash and credit card payments at the start of the program. Unfortunately we are not able to accommodate registrations made after May 1.

Refund policy: In the event of light to moderate rain, the program will take still place as scheduled. Guests are advised to wear boots and rain gear. If there is heavy rain or we detect lightning on site, the program will be rescheduled to the rain date. We will make this announcement via email and over our social media. If both programs are canceled by Penn Dixie due to weather, all guests will receive a refund. Otherwise, our usual cancellation policy applies.

2019 Schedule

By Dr. Phil Stokes, Executive Director and Dr. Holly Schreiber, Director of Education

Hello, again! Memories of our 2018 season, including the World’s Largest Fossil Dig, are still fresh in our minds as we plan our 2019 campaign. Our upcoming season is loaded with science programming including old favorites and new offerings. Please note that the schedule is subject to change and that more programs will be added as the season approaches.

Wednesday, February 13, 7:00 pm
Science Talk: Tales of Mastodons (and Others) from the Hiscock Site
By Dr. Richard S. Laub

Wednesday, March 20, 7:00 pm
Science Talk: An Archeologist’s Perspective
By Dr. Caitlin Chaves Yates

Saturday March 23 and Sunday March 24
Penn Dixie Exhibit at the Buffalo Gem & Mineral Show at the Erie County Fairgrounds, Hamburg, NY

Wednesday, April 17, 7:00 pm
Science Talk TBA
By Don Williams, President of the Steel Plant Museum of WNY

Saturday April 20, 10 am to 2 pm
Earth Day at Penn Dixie
Join our team of volunteers as we perform the annual cleanup of Penn Dixie and prepare to reopen to the public. No registration needed. FREE admission and pizza for all of our helpers!

Saturday April 27
Penn Dixie reopens to the public
Saturdays, 9am to 5pm and Sundays, 10 am to 5 pm

Saturday April 27, 7:45 pm
April Astronomy Night

Saturday May 4, 9 am to 11 am
Penn Dixie Volunteer Orientation
Penn Dixie would not exist without our volunteers! To keep growing, we’re always on the lookout for help with programming, school visits, community engagement, site maintenance, and administration. No experience necessary. We will provide all the training needed! Learn about Penn Dixie from our staff and experienced volunteers and receive the tools that you will need to make a difference. Refreshments included.
In the auditorium of the Gateway Executive Office Building, 3556 Lake Shore Rd. Blasdell, NY. Contact Dr. Holly Schreiber at holly@penndixie.org to register.

Monday May 6, 10 am to 1 pm
Homeschool Day at Penn Dixie
Learn about the geological history of Western New York at Penn Dixie. This special tour for homeschoolers includes a complete educational tour of Penn Dixie led by our trained educators. Students can take home all the fossils they find! Admission is $5 per student. Students must be accompanied by an adult. No experience necessary. Program is for grades 1-12. Pre-registration is required. To register email Holly at holly@penndixie.org. Register by April 29 and receive $1 off admission. Rain date: May 8.

Friday May 17, 6:30 pm
The Fossil Adventures of PaleoJoe
By Joe ‘PaleoJoe’ Kchodl, Paleontologist, from Midland, MI
An illustrated presentation with specimens in the auditorium of the Gateway Executive Office Building, 3556 Lake Shore Rd. Blasdell, NY. Admission $4, FREE to Penn Dixie members and their guests, or FREE to registered Dig w/ Experts guests. No registration needed.

Saturday May 18 and Sunday May 19, 9 am to 4 pm
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.
Tickets limited.

May 25, 8:15 pm
May Astronomy Night

Monday May 27 (Memorial Day), 9 am to 3 pm
Penn Dixie open for Memorial Day holiday! Come and dig for fossils!

Saturday June 15, 10 am to 12 pm
Fossil Hunting for Beginners
New to fossil hunting? Learn the tricks of the trade from paleontologist Dr. Holly Schreiber. Tour the site and learn all the best spots to hunt for fossils. Dr. Schreiber will teach you how to find, dig, and preserve all the fossil treasures you find. No experience necessary. All ages welcome. Bring your own tools or borrow from our limited supply. Included with admission or FREE for members.

Monday June 17
Penn Dixie open seven days/week until September 6. Our hours will be Monday to Saturday, 9 am to 5 pm and Sunday 10 am to 5 pm.

Saturday June 29, 10 am to 12 pm
Fossil Hunting for Beginners

Saturday June 29, 8:30 pm
June Astronomy Night

Thursday July 4 (Independence Day), 9 am to 3 pm
Penn Dixie open for the 4th of July holiday! Come and celebrate our nation’s independence by digging for fossils!

Friday July 5, 9 am to 7 pm
Fossil Friday!
Penn Dixie will stay open late for after hours fossil collecting until 7 pm. Admission is $5 for children and adults ALL DAY; Penn Dixie members attend for FREE. No reservations needed.

Friday July 12, 9 am to 7 pm
Fossil Friday!

Friday July 19, 9 am to 7 pm
Fossil Friday!

Saturday July 20
It’s burger time! Penn Dixie’s free fossil dig and exhibit booth will be setup in the Village of Hamburg as we celebrate the birthplace of the hamburger at BurgerFest. This community event is a great place to share our mission with the public and we hope to see you there!

Friday July 26, 9 am to 7 pm
Fossil Friday!

Saturday July 27, 5 to 11 pm
A Midsummer Night’s Adventure
A different program this year!

Sunday August 11, 10 am to 12 pm
Fossil Hunting for Beginners

Saturday August 24, Time: TBD
A special Penn Dixie program: Stay tuned for details!!

August 31, 7:30 pm
August Astronomy Night

Monday September 2 (Labor Day), 9 am to 3 pm
Penn Dixie open for Labor Day holiday! Come and dig for fossils!

Friday September 6
Penn Dixie returns to weekend hours: Saturday 9 am to 5 pm and Sunday 10 am to 5 pm

Sunday September 8, 10 am to 4 pm
Grandparent’s Day
In recognition of Grandparent’s day, all grandparents accompanied by grandchildren are admitted for free. Our experts will also be on site to help identify your fossils, rocks and minerals. Our telescopes for viewing sunspots and solar flares will be available as well.
Adults: $9, Children 3-12: $7, Children 2 and Under & Penn Dixie Members: FREE
No pre-registrations required.

Saturday, September 21, 9 am to 4 pm
Scouting Rocks!
Penn Dixie is excited to offer a FREE day of fossil collecting, sunspot viewing, nature walks, and other hands-on science activities for ANY scout in uniform. More info to follow.

Tuesday September 24, 10 am to 1 pm
Homeschool Day at Penn Dixie
Learn about the geological history of Western New York at Penn Dixie. This special tour for homeschoolers includes a complete educational tour of Penn Dixie led by our trained educators. Students can take home all the fossils they find! Admission is $5 per student. Students must be accompanied by an adult. No experience necessary. Program is for grades 1-12. Pre-registration is required. To register email Holly at holly@penndixie.org. Register by September 16 and receive $1 off admission. Rain date: September 26.

September 28, 6:30 pm
Astronomy Night

Saturday October 5, 9 am to 4 pm
22nd Annual Erie County Earth Science Day
Come talk to earth scientists and watch as they exhibit and demonstrate various aspects of their professions. Learn about drill rigs and watch a demonstration on rock coring and drilling operations. Sunspots and solar flares will also be visible through our telescopes along with fossil collecting and a wide variety of other activities.

October 19, 6 pm
October Astronomy Night

Sunday October 20
Penn Dixie closes to the public

Thursday November 7, 6 to 9 pm
24th Annual HNHS/Penn Dixie Fundraiser

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 phil@penndixie.org 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

By the numbers: 2016 attendance

A closer look at our 2016 attendance by HNHS/Penn Dixie Executive Director Dr. Phil Stokes

Penn Dixie’s 2016 May to September general admissions.

We’ve received a lot of feedback about our huge boost in attendance this year. While much of the feedback is positive, there’s some genuine curiosity as well. So, I thought that I’d share some of our strategies with our supporters. First, some notes:

  1. These data only represent general admissions (i.e., visitors who arrived at the site to collect fossils as individuals or small groups). We did not include group programs (e.g., school tours, scout programs), special events (e.g., Dig with the Experts), summer camps, lectures, off-site programs (e.g., Science Nights) and other programming.
  2. We estimated 2014 attendance as these numbers were not digitally available at the time we made our graph.
  3. A more detailed look at our 2016 attendance will be included in our annual report, which will be released this winter.

Onto the discussion

Looking back at our historical attendance, the number of visitors to our site steadily increased throughout the 1990s and 2000s. This was an important time for us — we were an all-volunteer organization for our first decade and relied heavily on word of mouth and newsletters to get the word out. With the hiring of full time and seasonal staff in the mid-2000s, we were able to serve more visitors through expanded collecting days and through improved marketing.

Penn Dixie general admissions attendance, 2011 to 2016.

Recent trends

From 2011 to 2015, we experienced some ups and downs. In 2012 and 2013, Penn Dixie offered new — and greater numbers of — programs and group tours. However, poor weather conditions hurt our general attendance in 2014 and 2015.

You’ll see that we are busiest in July and August, since these are the months when school is out and people are traveling. Our summer visitors are comprised of a mix of local collectors and fossil enthusiasts from around the country and the world. In 2016, for instance, we’ve welcomed visitors from 35 states and five countries. Our visitors represent a breadth of experience levels: some are world-renowned fossil collectors, some are science fans who collect rocks and minerals for fun, and some are first-time collectors.

busy visitors.jpg
A mix of summer visitors: trilobite hunters (left) and birthday party fossil hunters (center).

To attract out of town visitors, Penn Dixie relies heavily on internet searches, communications within amateur and professional paleontology communities, brochures in places like the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, and word of mouth. We’re pleased to have such a good reputation in the fossil collecting community — based on decades of hard work from our staff and volunteers — and will work diligently to keep up our reputation at the top fossil part in the U.S.

Penn Dixie international web visitors with top five countries shown.

We shifted our marketing

Regional visitors are drawn to Penn Dixie through advertising, word of mouth, and community engagement (e.g., our booths at the Erie County Fair and Hamburg Burgerfest). In the past, these efforts involved many volunteer and staff hours staffing festivals and other events. This year, we refocused our marketing in the region to reach new audiences who might not had previously heard of Penn Dixie. These were some of our initiatives:

  1. A new website. We redesigned our site to be more user friendly and to include as much information about the first-time visitor experience as possible. We wanted our new guests to understand what this fossil collecting business was all about!
  2. Enhanced social media presence. We put our Facebook page on the fast track (see chart below) and it boosted traffic to our website and our physical site. We also created a Twitter account and started blogging — how meta that you’re reading this!
  3. We included discount coupons in local newspapers and magazines and in the Hamburg Visitor’s Guide. The Hamburg Chamber of Commerce is awesome, btw.
  4. We distributed coupons to participants in our group programs with the hopes that they would bring new visitors to our site.
  5. We shifted some of our advertising from traditional media (e.g., newspapers and magazines) to online media (e.g., Facebook and Google Ads).
  6. We reduced our quantity of community events while increasing the impact of our presence at the events that we did attend. For example, we decided against traveling to the Syracuse Gem & Mineral Show but did attend a children’s fair at SUNY Buffalo.
Our Facebook likes more than doubled over the past year. Facebook is the #2 referrer to our website; Google is #1.

Lucky us

We were fortunate that this combination of changes was successful. As luck would have it, we were also in the right place at the right time. We didn’t know it then, but some visitors from India went back home and decided to open their own fossil park and model it after Penn Dixie. The Buffalo News and Artvoice did an excellent job describing this new partnership. We benefited from a lot of great press this year, and you can see all of the articles on our media page.

The dudes from India with their Penn Dixie plaque.

Similarly, we were excited to host our largest ever Dig with the Experts this spring. Channel 4 News did a live feed from our site the morning before the dig, and our website experienced a surge of visitors as a result. And, as a result, we had even more visitors attend the dig, more new fossil collectors come to the site during the summer, more birthday party bookings, and welcomed many new members to our society. It’s certainly a funny feeling to have a 3rd grader come to the site and say “Hey, I saw you on TV!”

Our luck continued and our high visibility encouraged new advertisers to reach out to us. In a very short period of time, Penn Dixie was approached by Groupon — a nationally recognized leader, Seize the Deal/Townsquare Media — with radio advertising (!), and Entertainment — printers of the famous books — to do promotional deals. Of course we said ‘YES!’ And, each of these deals helped us to further boost our admissions.

The next steps

So, where are we headed? Despite this huge increase, we’re NOT swimming in gold like Uncle Scrooge (below). Sadly, our revenue doesn’t double along with our attendance — though if it did, I’d be writing this from a much more comfortable office chair! Much of our admissions revenue goes towards labor costs, which include staff salaries, payroll taxes, and employee-related expenses such as disability insurance. It’s not very exciting, but that’s the reality of a small nonprofit. For example, just as a great deal of my time is spent away from the fun stuff going on at the site, much of our revenue goes to unexciting things like insurance, bookkeeping/accounting, and other operating expenses. If any insurance or accounting people reading this, I’m sorry! 

The good news is that increased attendance allows us to make a stronger case for grants and public funding. More visitors means that more people know and appreciate Penn Dixie, which translates to better chances for us to grow in the future. Plus, if we’re careful about how we commit our staff — and blessed with help from volunteers — we can use some of the proceeds from increased admissions to invest in the future. These funds might go towards the hiring of additional staff — which helps us to offer new programs — and advertising. And, I know that I’d love to work out of a building on the site — which would allow us to remain open year round — and showing increased attendance is perhaps the best way to justify that expense.

One last thought

On a personal note, I love seeing first-time collectors at the site, especially families with young children. We provide an incredible and unique opportunity for science learning at a very affordable cost. Plus, we’re in an outdoors setting, which means that visitors need to tune out their electronic devices to get the full experience. Despite having collected fossils for over two decades, I’m still thrilled every time I find something new — which is very often at Penn Dixie as you probably know — and am encouraged when our guests experience that same feeling.


Frequently Asked Questions

Penn Dixie offers 54-acres of fossil collecting, nature trails, and wetlands.

Since Penn Dixie welcomes many new visitors each summer, we put together this guide for new visitors. Please contact us if something is missing or needs clarification.

How can I purchase tickets?

Tickets are available on site. There is no charge for children under age 3. Senior, military, and student discounts with valid ID. Veterans may visit for free if they present a valid Erie County ‘Thank A Vet’ Discount Program card. Members should carry their cards with them during their visit. We also offer Private Expeditions and a premium fossil collecting experience through IfOnly. There is no charge for parking.

Adults Seniors 62+ Military Students Children 3-17 Members
$10 $9 $9 $9 $7 FREE

Which days are the busiest?

Generally, weekends are busier than weekdays. Since Penn Dixie has 54 acres — and a very large fossil quarry — it almost never feels crowded, even when we host big groups. Daily site traffic peaks around lunch time, though we occasionally have people waiting to enter before we open and folks who wish to stay until we close at 5 pm.

How long do people spend at the site?

It depends on how much time you’d like to spend looking for fossils! Some folks spend 1-2 hours, while others hunt all day. Serious collectors may visit the site for several days at a time in order to get the best/most specimens.

When is the best time of day to visit?

That’s up to you. Mornings tend to be cooler, while afternoons and evenings are much warmer. Since there is little shade in the quarry, we recommend bringing sunscreen, a shade hat, and water. Our nature trails have excellent canopy coverage if you need a break from the heat. And, we have several shelters that are perfect for a quick rest.

Are restrooms available?

Yes — we have two portable toilets available.

Is the site accessible?

Most of Penn Dixie — including our fossil collecting areas — is accessible to those in wheelchairs and with mobility impairments.

What about the weather?

With the exception of lightning, the site will be open regardless of weather. Be prepared and dress for the conditions.

A mold and cast of a Phacops trilobite from Penn Dixie.

What are the chances of finding fossils?

If you look — 100%!! Different parts of the site have different fossils and nearly all of Penn Dixie has some sort of geological treasure waiting to be discovered. We estimate that there are tens of thousands of fossils present just at the surface. Our trained staff will help you to locate and identify your fossils, or you are welcome to uncover them on your own.

What can I expect to find?

Since Penn Dixie has millions of Devonian marine fossils, everyone is guaranteed to find something. Probably lots of things. You can get an idea about what has been found in the past by viewing our fossil gallery.

What if there is nothing to find?

Not possible! We excavate a new part of the quarry every spring and there are always fossils to be found.

Are all of the fossils real?

Definitely. They’ve been hiding out under layers of rock ever since the organisms lived and died almost 400 million years ago.

How common are trilobites?

The trilobite Phacops rana is fairly common if you know where to look. But, it’s a real challenge to find a complete trilobite — or, several complete trilobites — in a single rock.

Can I keep what I find?

YES! If you find something really cool or unique, we ask that you submit a photo that we can include on our website.

What do I need to bring to collect fossils?

It’s up to you, but everyone should bring at least a bag or small bucket for their fossils. Surface collecting — without tools — sometimes yields really cool stuff, especially after a strong rain. Digging — with the right tools — helps to unearth fresh specimens that have not seen the light of day in almost 400 million years. If you bring tools, we recommend:

  • Rock hammer with steel handle
  • Small sledge hammer and chisel
  • Pry bars
  • Safety goggles
  • Newspaper/bubble wrap
  • Bags for storing wrapped fossils

What if I don’t have that stuff?

Penn Dixie has tool sets for rental at $5/day. The sets include a small sledge hammer or two, chisel, safety goggles, and bucket. We will also sell fossil collecting bags for $2. Though our supplies are limited, we have not yet run out of rental tools on busy days.