Windows into the past

Teachers get hands-on experience finding fossils to share with their students while visiting the Florissant Fossil Quarry. (Photo by Marianne Mogon/The Flume)

Saturday, Aug. 24, 35 teachers from the Pike’s Peak region, with the Peak Area Leadership in Science organization, visited the Florissant Fossil Quarry on Teller County Road 1 in Florissant. These educators were excited to share in the unique hands-on experience of splitting shale in search of fossils.

“Look what I found,” was heard several times and the specimen was passed around amid “oohs” and “ahhs” as the other teachers gathered to see what was discovered: insects, leaves and cattails were among the fossils found.

The Florissant Fossil Quarry has been open for 30 years, allowing individuals, groups and schools to come and experience the thrill of finding and discovering a variety of fossils.

The quarry contains abundant plant remains and remarkable insect fauna from the Eocene Epoch, 35 to 38 million years ago. Also, fishes and birds 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 would come 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 the quarry’s 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 added.

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 the 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 the 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 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 on Saturday thought it was a wonderful idea and would be a great enhancement to their science courses.

Anderson stated that 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 the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.

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