It literally took an act of Congress and a challenging court battle, but Aug. 20, 1969, President Richard Nixon signed the bill making Florissant Fossil Beds a national monument. This ended the attempt to develop the area and saved the treasure trove of one of the richest and most diverse fossil deposits in the world.
Tuesday, Aug. 20, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument celebrated the 50th anniversary of the efforts of a passionate group of scientists, citizens and local residents who fought a grassroots battle to protect the area, which forever saves the fossils and other natural and cultural features of the monument.
Countless visitors come to the monument each year and are afforded the opportunity to step back into time.
According to a timeline on the website, “the valley was once surrounded by volcanoes forming the landscape we see today. Seventy to forty million years ago the modern Rocky Mountains formed. Thirty-seven million years ago, a massive flow of ash and hot gasses tore through the valley. Thirty-four million years ago, volcanic ash and debris created the conditions for fossil preservation and Lake Florissant formed and preserved the delicate fossils in shale.
“The lake then drained and formed a stream valley where mammals and tree stumps were preserved. The lake formed again until a final volcanic pumice eruption filled the lake forever. Two and a half million years ago until 13,000 years ago, glaciers shaped the Rocky Mountains and mammoths lived in the valley.”
Charlotte Hill, homesteader turned naturalist, was the first to discover the fossils in the 1870s. Scientists began to visit the area to find and document evidence of the past. As time marched on, the area was privately owned and sold several times and went through a variety of names until 1969 when land developers decided to bulldoze the area.
Local residents, scientists, and others formed a group called the Defenders of Florissant and hired attorneys and petitioned legislators to help protect this valuable asset for the scientific community and the world. Vim Wright, an activist from Denver, had organized a group of people willing to place themselves between the bulldozers and the area, but justice prevailed, a delay was granted, and the bill was signed.
Since then, the 6000-acre monument has become an area of promoting more research, colleges and universities are encouraged to use the monument for educational opportunities, a database is being compiled, and 65 interns are receiving valuable educational experiences.
“We have a great ranger staff, a new exhibition center, a new park film, and new geology trails,” said Dr. Herbert Meyer, resident paleontologist at the monument.
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument welcomes everyone of all ages to come and explore what our world was like billions of years ago and view the 1,800 species of fossils, 1,500 insects and spiders, the petrified stumps and the huge diversity of life the monument has to offer.