About 35 educators recently shared a unique hands-on experience of splitting shale in search of fossils at the Florissant Fossil Quarry on Teller County Road 1.The Pikes Peak-region teachers hunted fossils with Peak Area Leadership in Science.
“Look what I found,” was heard several times, as a specimen was passed around amid “oohs” and “ahhs” while other teachers gathered to see what was discovered. Insects, leaves and cattails were among fossils found.
The Florissant Fossil Quarry has been open for 30 years, allowing individuals, groups and schools to experience the thrill of discovering a variety of fossils.
The quarry contains abundant plant remains and insect fauna from the Eocene Epoch, 35 to 38 million years ago. Fishes and birds also have been found at this location.
Hundreds of species of known and unknown varieties of plants are commonly found. Some of the specific types include pine, cedar, hickory, sumac, willow and poplar. Insects include many different species of ants, spiders and flies.
In the beginning, geology students came to the quarry to study and conduct research.
Then more interest developed after the popularity of “Jurassic Park,” and people became interested in paleontology. The business itself came by accident in response to people wanting the experience of finding their own fossils.
“It’s always been about education for the kids,” said Nancy Clare Anderson, daughter of quarry founders Gene and Toni Clare.
“It’s a family affair, and I grew up here, and I still get excited when a specimen is found,” Anderson said.
During the summer the quarry is open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., from Memorial Day through Labor Day. It is open in the off-season on weekends or by appointment, weather permitting.
They used to host schools for field trips, but with a shortage of buses and various regulations and red tape regarding field trips, the opportunities are fewer.
The Clare family is eager to remedy the situation and is planning to refurbish a bus into a mobile fossil unit that can be taken to schools and set up as a lab to let students experience hands-on fossil hunting.
“It would be an off-site fossil adventure,” Anderson said.
As with any project such as this, it takes funding, and since the quarry is not considered nonprofit, grants and other funds are not readily available.
Anderson said she knows it’s a lofty goal, but she is willing to do what she can to make it happen. She is trying to locate funding sources, but right now she, along with her siblings, are doing it on their own, so no time frame has been established. The teachers visiting the site recently thought it was a wonderful idea and would be a great enhancement to their science courses.
Anderson said the quarry has always just been about education, and in the early years, students from as far away as Waynesburg University in Waynesburg, Pa., came to study.
Specimens found at the quarry are on display in national and international museums, including the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.