A Step Back in Time:  A Visit to Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Reserve

By Holly A. Schreiber, PhD, Director of Education, Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Reserve

Western New York offers one of the most unique experiences that you can have – fossil collecting in a fun, family-friendly environment.  Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Reserve, located in Blasdell, offers visitors a chance to learn about Western New York during a time in Earth’s history called the Devonian Period.

Visiting Penn Dixie is a journey 380 million years into the past. The fossils found here – the site of a former cement quarry – are the remains of animals that lived in a shallow, tropical ocean back when Buffalo was about 30 degrees south of the Equator.  This was 150 million years before dinosaurs even walked the Earth!

Penn Dixie is run by The Hamburg Natural History Society. Formed in 1993, The Hamburg Natural History Society, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, successfully lobbied the Town of Hamburg to purchase the land and donate it to the society. In turn, The Society agreed to remove accumulated waste and to develop the property so that it could become a unique destination for science education and tourism. The Hamburg Natural History Society continues to be partially supported by funds from Erie County and the Town of Hamburg. Since its formation, The Society has grown from an all-volunteer organization to a cultural institution embedded in the community fabric of Western New York. Annual attendance averages 18,000 with one in eight visitors traveling from out-of-state – or outside the U.S. – to collect fossils. The Society delivers on its mission of hands-on science education by offering engaging, inquiry-based field trips for K-16 students and summer programming for youth and families.

Upon arrival at Penn Dixie, visitors are greeted by Penn Dixie’s trained staff. Daily admission can be purchased on site the day of your visit or in advance online. Short, introductory tours leave every 15-20 minutes and provide guests with the geologic history of the area and tips for fossil hunting. We suggest bringing a bucket or reusable shopping bag to hold your fossils. Yes – you can take home all the fossils you find! Garden trowels are provided free of charge and tool rentals are also available for a nominal fee. However, tools are not necessary. Thanks to Western New York’s wet weather, many fossils litter the surface. Be sure to dress for the weather. More information can be found on Penn Dixie’s Frequently Asked Questions page.

Fossil collecting – once a wealthy gentleman’s hobby in Georgian England – is now enjoyed by many. Happily, Penn Dixie’s mission extends beyond this one activity; it serves to educate the public about the past, to engage the imagination while looking back in time, to improve understanding of scientific and environmental issues affecting society, to promote tourism, and to inspire youth to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers.

Step back in time with Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Reserve and learn about Western New York’s long history!