Penn Dixie Day

On Saturday October 3 we celebrate 25 years of Hamburg love with free admission for Hamburg residents! Join us for a complimentary tour of our 54-acre park that was made possible by support from the town that friendship built — Hamburg, NY.

  • Reservations required; tickets limited
  • Rain or shine, all ages welcome
  • Basic fossil collecting tools provided
  • Bring a bag, box, or bucket to store your fossils
  • Tours depart regularly
  • Final tour at 2:45 pm
  • Park is wheelchair accessible

Hamburg Natural History Society/Penn Dixie thanks our neighbors in Hamburg and Blasdell, The Hamburg Town Board — current and previous editions — and The Hamburg Town Supervisor’s office for over two decades of support. We also acknowledge The Hamburg Chamber of CommerceHighway Department, and The Town of Hamburg Department of Youth, Recreation, and Senior Services for their longstanding collaborations.


How to Book: Follow this link and select the Hamburg Resident ticket option for any tour time on October 3. Non-residents are welcome to join at our usual admission rates.

What to Bring: Proof of residency in Hamburg such as driver’s license, passport, or utility statement. Proof is required for one adult in each household group.

Prehistoric Policies: Children must be accompanied at all times. Stone-throwing and running are expressly prohibited. Please do not disturb the plant and animal life. Guests who do not follow our rules will be asked to leave. Outside food and beverage are welcome; no alcohol, please. No pets allowed. Official service animals are welcome. Penn Dixie is a no-smoking facility. Firearms, knives, and weapons are prohibited.

We thank the Town of Hamburg and Erie County for major support.

Hamburg seal        Erie-County-Seal

Social Distance Dig

Advance booking required for all nonmembers and members visiting for the first time. Tickets are limited. Nonmembers and members enjoy unlimited time at the park during normal business hours.

The first tour is 9:15 am; subsequent tours held every 30 minutes. The final tour is 2:45 pm and the park closes at 4:30 pm. All first time visitors will receive a safety briefing followed by an introductory tour. Make reservations here. If you do not have a credit or debit card to complete your booking, please Contact Us.

New members: contact phil@penndixie.org for a code to eliminate ticketing fees. Members who have previously visited do not need to make a reservation but must register upon arrival.

In The Future: We hope we can remain open to the public. Please remind your friends and family to help reduce the spread in our community by following health guidelines.

Adults Seniors 62+ Military Students Children 3-17 Members
$12 $11 $11 $11 $9 FREE

Purchase General Admission


Important New Measures

Before Your Tour

  • If you or anyone in your party has flu-like symptoms, please do not come to Penn Dixie. We will gladly reschedule your tour or refund your purchase. Any guest who experiences flu-like symptoms will be required to leave Penn Dixie.
  • Do not visit Penn Dixie if you recently experienced flu-like symptoms or were diagnosed with COVID-19. If you are ill, research suggests the virus may remain for 2-3 weeks beyond relief from symptoms. Please do not hurry in to see us — we’ll be here in the fall and next year, too!
  • Our operations will be disrupted if we learn that a visitor or employee has been infected. In this case, we may be forced to temporarily close on short notice. We will make our best effort to notify you as soon as possible if this is the case.

What To Wear

  • Face coverings are required for guests 3 & up in the parking lot, at check-on, near bathrooms, in our brown pavilion, and on our central paved trail. Face coverings are optional in the rear of the park and on nature trails.
  • If you do not have a face covering, a mask will be provided for you at no charge. We also have masks available for children.
  • Face coverings should fully cover your nose and mouth, fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face, be secured with ties or ear loops, and be made of breathable material.

When You Arrive

  • Our parking lot is redesigned to increase the space between vehicles. When you arrive, please park in one of the designated spaces.
  • If you arrive early, you may use the portable toilets located near the entrance. Toilets are sanitized daily. Otherwise, please remain in your vehicle until 10 minutes prior to your tour’s start time. Please do not allow members of your party to wander the parking lot or mingle with other guests.
  • Send one person to check-in at our green pavilion while the rest of your party waits in your vehicle. Once checked in, you will be given directions to meet in a staging area. Do not gather our green welcome pavilion.
  • At this time, we can only accept cashless payment options on site.
  • You agree to share your name and contact information for contact tracing purposes. This information will be shared only with the Erie County Department of Health.
Mask map
Face coverings are required in the parking lot, at check-on, near bathrooms, in our brown pavilion, and on our central paved trail.

During Your Visit

  • Social distancing of 6 feet (2 meters) or more is required at all times. You are welcome to walk/hike/dig at a closer distance with family members and those living in your immediate household, but we cannot allow group gatherings, parties, picnics, or meetings with multiple families. Please do not linger in the parking lot.
  • We are fortunate that our park has plenty of space. Remind your younger family members and guests that they may explore the grounds but should not get close to guests who are not part of your group.
  • Though running water is not available on site, hand sanitizer stations will be available in several locations. Portable toilets will also be available.
  • Please respect any areas, picnic tables, and benches which are closed.
  • You are welcome to bring your own tools for fossil hunting. We also offer complimentary garden trowels and buckets as well as professional tools to rent. Tools are sanitized after each use. Please see our Frequent Questions page for more information about fossil collecting.

Please Be Advised

  • These new measures will be strictly enforced by Penn Dixie staff. If you — or those in your party — do not agree to follow all of our safety measures then we ask that you visit Penn Dixie during another season.
  • For your safety, all guests will be monitored by Penn Dixie staff and wireless security cameras. Regrettably, guests who do not comply with these measures will be asked to leave the park. Refunds will not be available.
  • Since we do not want to ask you to leave, please review all of the measures with all members of your party ahead of time.
  • An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death. According to the CDC, senior citizens and guests with underlying medical conditions are especially vulnerable. By visiting Penn Dixie you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.
  • Unfortunately, those at greatest risk from the virus include persons with chronic breathing issues such as COPD. If you have a chronic breathing issue or other medical condition which prevents you from wearing a mask, we encourage you to visit Penn Dixie at another time.
  • Guests with medically documented disabilities may Contact Us to request a reasonable accommodation. Please be prepared to provide 1) Evidence of disability within ADA guidelines; 2) A description of what modification is needed, detailing the safety measure(s) involved; and 3) How that modification relates to the disability. To provide our staff with an opportunity to review your documentation, this request must be made, in writing, at least 72 hours in advance of your planned visit to Penn Dixie.

Program Notes

Due to the above challenges we regrettably cancel these scheduled programs:

  • Fossil Hunting for Beginners (June 20; July 11; August 15)
  • Town of Hamburg Weekend (June 27 & 28)
  • Fossil Hunters Workshop (August 8)
  • Homeschool Days (June 16; September 22; October 5)
  • Rock-It (July 25)
  • Dig with the Experts (August 29 & 30)
  • Stargazing in Hamburg (June 27; July 13 @ Lake Shore Public Library; July 25; August 22; September 26; October 17)
  • Erie County Earth Science Day (October 3)

These programs are still planned, with some changes expected:

  • Fossil Fridays (Fridays in July & August)
  • Grandparents Day (September 13)
  • Scouting Rocks (September 19)

Penn Dixie has also added a number of virtual programs and presentations:

  • Virtual Astronomy Nights (various dates)
  • History of the Niagara Gorge by Catherine Konieczny (May 27)
  • Recent Discoveries in the Science of Paleontology by Dan Krisher (June 3)

Reopening Policies

Pursuant to state and local guidelines, we share our official healthy and safety policies for public access. Policies are subject to change

HNHS-Penn Dixie NYS Safe Business Reopening Plan

Penn Dixie Reopening Plan 6-13-20

Thank YOU!

Reopening is a team effort. We are grateful to the Arts Services Initiative of WNY for a $5,000 grant for protective equipment and cleaning products. The Town of Hamburg donated 1,000 disposable masks. Lois Schultz, mom of Director of Education Dr. Holly Schreiber, sewed 30 reusable masks for our employees in Penn Dixie colors. We also received a loan under the CARES Act to retain staffing during the shutdown. Finally, we acknowledge Erie County and the Town of Hamburg for their continued support.

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.

founders
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.”

20180713_124519
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.”

Special Statement on Hamburg Tornado

Penn Dixie before tornado 20170720_123527
A heavy downpour at Penn Dixie shortly before the tornado touched down nearby. Photo courtesy Jay Wollin.

Special Statement on Hamburg Tornado
By Dr. Phil Stokes, Executive Director

Since we’ve had several inquiries regarding yesterday’s tornado, I decided to make a brief update to share with our members, supporters, and friends in the community.

Penn Dixie was very fortunate to avoid damage from yesterday’s (7/20/17) tornado that touched down in Hamburg, NY. As you can see below, the tornado touched down roughly one mile southwest of our park. That’s a little bit too close for comfort! Please note that there is an inconsistency in the graphic: the tornado had max winds of 105 mph and meets criteria for EF 1. According to the Enhanced Fujita classification system, EF 1 tornadoes typically result in:

“Moderate damage. Roofs severely stripped; mobile homes overturned or badly damaged; loss of exterior doors; windows and other glass broken.”

EF 2 tornadoes typically cause:

“Considerable damage. Roofs torn off well-constructed houses; foundations of frame homes shifted; mobile homes completely destroyed; large trees snapped or uprooted; light-object missiles generated; cars lifted off ground.”

As you can read about in many reports, there was light to moderate damage in Hamburg, including both property and auto damage. Fortunately, there was no loss of human life.

Hamburg tornado
Path of the 7/20 tornado through Hamburg. Penn Dixie is located approximately near the ‘S’ in Athol Springs on the left side of the map. There is an inconsistency in the graphic — a tornado with 105 mph winds is generally classified EF 1. Image from Todd Santos/Channel 4.

At Penn Dixie, our staff acted immediately when they recognized the threat of the approaching storm. Following protocol, the park was closed and visitors were ushered to their vehicles. Our summer day camp was suspended and our camp staff transported the campers to the safety of Big Tree Volunteer Fire Co. The park remained closed — and the campers remained in safe quarters — until the storm had safely passed over the area. See below for post-storm video clips from Jay Wollin.

 

I thank our diligent staff — Jeffrey Dietz, Jonathan Hoag, Rhiannon Starks, and Jason Wollin — for making informed decisions and taking swift action. They made visitor safety the top priority. I also thank the volunteers from the Town of Hamburg and Big Tree Volunteer Fire Co. who gave our campers a special tour of the fire hall during the storm. I’m sure they won’t forget the experience!

 

Bellacartwrightia: A Singular Specimen

Bellacartwrightia enlarged
Bellacartwrightia sp. trilobite uncovered by Alasdair Gilfillin at Penn Dixie in 2016.

Every so often, one of our visitors uncovers a truly spectacular fossil. The preservation might be perfect, the assemblage of different fossils might be unique, or the type of fossil might be very uncommon. In this case, we present a beautifully preserved and uncommon trilobite called Bellacartwrightia.

Bellacartwrightia side view
Sideview of Bellacartwrightia. Trilobite is approximately 1.5 inches long.

Penn Dixie member Alasdair Gilfillan discovered this trilobite at our park on October 3, 2016. Our dig season was coming to a close and Alasdair decided to spend a weekend visiting us from New Jersey. Alasdair dug into the infamous Smoke Creek trilobite bed of the Windom Shale and unearthed what he thought was a Greenops — an uncommon trilobite that seems to represent one or two of every 100 or so trilobites that are found. Instead, Alasdair found something much rarer. He writes:

You may remember that I found a nice (though at the time partially covered) trilobite which I thought was a Greenops that day. I managed to get it prepped and it turns out that it was a Bellacartwrightia, a much rarer form. The prep guy did a really nice job and it turned out to be a really fantastic specimen. Please find enclosed the photographs. The trilobite is ~ 1.5 inches long.

Alasdair adds that the prep work was done by Bob Miles — a former Penn Dixie board member who also took the photographs. We thank Alasdair for sharing his images and for his donation of many fossil specimens that were used in our school programs.

Bellcartwrightia front view
The Bellacartwrightia cephalon (head) resembles that of Greenops, but the two genera are not closely related.

Bellacartwrightia is uniquely found in the Devonian rocks of the Hamilton Group in New York State. This fossil was first described by Lieberman and Kloc in 1997; the original paper can be downloaded here. Bellacartwrightia was named after the wife of paleontologist Bruce Lieberman, who at the time was a postdoctoral fellow at the American Museum of Natural History. Dr. Lieberman is now at the University of Kansas. The paper explains how Bellacartwrightia is different from Greenops, another trilobite with a somewhat similar appearance. From page 29:

In addition, the members of this genus are phylogenetically distant from species assigned to true Greenops…These two Middle Devonian genera have not shared acommon ancestor since, at latest, the Siegenian [approx 411 million years ago], based on an analysis of ghost lineages. To treat these species as members of a genus Greenops would necessitate placing all of the asteropyginines within the genus Greenops.

There you have it — a new genus of trilobites first documented in 1997 and one of our members finds an excellent specimen 20 years after the discovery!

Bellacartwrightia
Bellacartwrightia in the host rock — Windom Shale.

Alasdair was kind enough to share additional photos of the Bellacartwrightia as well as some of his other treasures from Penn Dixie. Our visitors are welcome to keep any fossils that they find, but we do appreciate photos of particularly cool fossils for use on our website.

Phacops rana double plate
A plate of Phacops rana trilobites found in 2015.
Phacops rana single plate
A single Phacops from 2016.
Phacops rana enlarged
Phacops trilobite. Prep work by Bob Miles.

For further reading, here are some links:

Evolutionary and biogeographic patterns in the Asteropyginae (Trilobita, Devonian) Delo, 1935 on AMNH

Bellacartwrightia whiteleyi on AMNH

Textbook Bellacartwrightia on Trilobites.com

Bellacartwrightia on fossilmuseum.net