A newly released report from the Hamburg Natural History Society (HNHS) finds that the Penn Dixie Paleontological & Outdoor Education Center’s annual fossil dig — Dig with the Experts — contributed greater than $32,000 in total economic impact to the Hamburg area in 2016.
The report examined the economic benefits generated from the one-day fossil collecting program in which visitors were invited to collect fossils in a freshly excavated portion of the site’s 54-acre quarry. Paleontologists from the Cincinnati area supervised the dig, where participants could unearth 380 million-year-old rocks in search of marine fossils such as trilobites and brachiopods.
Visitors stayed in local lodgings, dined at local restaurants, and visited area attractions while they were in town. About 40 percent of the dig 165 attendees traveled from outside the Buffalo area; a similar number were first-time visitors to Penn Dixie.
HNHS Director David Hanewinckel, who authored the study, stated “We knew Penn Dixie had an economic effect on the area, but before this study, we didn’t know how much we contributed. Now, we have a good number and look forward to continuing success.” The study was conducted by Hanewinckel, HNHS Executive Director Phil Stokes, and Dr. Roger Levine, an independent consultant formerly of the American Institutes for Research.
Penn Dixie typically welcomes 12,000 visitors each year; visitors from 31 states and four countries have visited to date in 2016. Penn Dixie was recognized as the top fossil park in the U.S. following a 2011 study published by the Geological Society of America.
You may have read about our new partnership with the Centre for Himalayan Geology in the Buffalo News or Artvoice. With Penn Dixie’s support, The Centre is in the process of creating an international scientific attraction — the Kashmir Triassic Fossil Park — near the town of Khonmoh in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, India.
Many of the types of fossils found at Penn Dixie are also present in Kashmir, though the species are not the same. For instance, both fossil parks have brachiopods, bivalves (clams), ammonites, gastropods, other marine invertebrates, and various plants. However, the park in Kashmir — at least as far as we can tell — does not have trilobites, as these animals became increasing scarce towards the end of the Paleozoic Era. The Permian-Triassic extinction event — which is captured in the rocks at the park — marked the end of the trilobites’ reign on our planet.
This massive die-off — which eliminated 90% of all marine species and 70% of all terrestrial vertebrates on Earth — led to the rise of the dinosaurs. Meteor impacts, widespread volcanism, and a runaway greenhouse effect (i.e., climate change) have been proposed by scientists as explanations for the extinction event.
For some additional reading about the park, visit these links:
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.
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
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.
With thousands of visitors to Penn Dixie each year, really cool fossils are uncovered fairly often. With a trained eye and determined spirit, our visitors never cease to amaze the staff and volunteers with what they discover.
Dr. Edgar Kooijman, Director of the Biotechnology Program at Kent State University sent us these photos and descriptions of some uncommon fossils from a trip to the site a couple of years ago. His specimens — a trilobite, a snail, a crinoid, and an amminoid — showcase the diversity of marine life that existed in our region during the Late Devonian Period.
From Dr. Kooijman:
This rolled trilobite was identified as a Bellacartwrightia calliteles and was found during the field trip of the North Coast Fossil Club in May 2013. It came from the main trilobite layer [in the Windom Shale], and was prepped by Brian Dasno from Watertown NY. This was no small task as the specimen was essentially split in two. The eyes and some of the carapace were on one side, and the rest on another. While the specimen was crushed during or after fossilization it is complete and all the spines are visible. The “spikes” coming from the front of the head are the tail spines. The dorsal spines are also beautifully visible.
The following three specimens were all found during the May 2014 field trip of the North Coast Fossil Club, from Cleveland OH. They were prepped by Marc Behrendt.
From Dr. Kooijman:
The crinoid cup is from a species that is commonly found in the Sylica shale of Ohio, but which is rare (at least complete cups are) in the Windom shale at Penn Dixie. The name of this species is Arthroacantha carpenteri (Hinde). The “nob” at the top is where the stem would have been attached. Stem fragments are common fossils in the shale of Penn Dixie. Also note the numerous scars of the side of the crinoid cup. These scars used to hold spines that may have served to ward of snails that loved to feed on crinoids. The spines are not preserved in this specimen but the attachment points are easily visible.
From Dr. Kooijman:
The snail is from the genus Platyceras, and the species may be Bucculentum. And was identified from among the different species found in the Sylica shale of north west Ohio. It was found just above the main trilobite layer at the edge of the digging pit during the 2014 season. It is the largest snail I have ever found at Penn Dixie.
From Dr. Kooijman:
The ammonite was found in the main trilobite layer. Note that the original shell material is not preserved and only the cast of this mollusk is visible. No genus name for this specimen is known. These aminoids are occasionally found in the Windom shale.
Penn Dixie thanks Dr. Kooijman for sharing his wonderful photos with us!
On Saturday May 28 — a day in which Buffalo set a new temperature record — Penn Dixie hosted its inaugural Scouting Rocks! program. The event was free for Boy and Girl Scouts in uniform and was designed to highlight the shared values between scientists and scouts, including: teamwork, creative thinking, problem solving, and respect for the outdoors.
Over 100 scouts and their families attended the event, which began with introductory remarks from Congressman Chris Collins — an Eagle Scout himself as well as major frequent supporter of Penn Dixie, Hamburg Town Supervisor Steven Walters — a strong supporter of Penn Dixie and community advocate for regional tourism to Hamburg, and Penn Dixie Executive Director Dr. Phil Stokes.
The program included special guests Adam Blair — an Eagle Scout — and Emilie Reynolds, both SUNY Buffalo mechanical engineering students, who helped scouts to design and launch rockets made from household materials. Rob Bauer from Moog helped to develop the activity but could not attend the day of the program.