by Dan Krisher, President, Rochester Academy of Science Fossil Section
The origin of the Rochester Academy of Science Fossil Section, in the form of the Genesee Valley Fossil Club, can be traced back to 1975. The Genesee Valley Fossil Club was founded by John Rivers and the first few small meetings were held at his home in Rochester. The new club, proving very popular, rapidly outgrew John’s home, and thereafter met in a number of different venues in Rochester.
In 1980 the club petitioned the Rochester Academy of Science to join that organization. The Rochester Academy of Science has been in existence since 1881 and is dedicated to promoting interest in the natural sciences. The Academy has historically been composed of several Sections which, in 1980, included Anthropology, Astronomy, Botany, Mineralogy and Ornithology. The Genesee Valley Club’s petition to join was accepted in 1981 and the group became the Fossil Section of the Rochester Academy of Science.
The Section currently has about 60 members whose level of interest in fossils ranges from arm-chair enthusiasts to professional paleontologists and geologists with the bulk of the membership falling somewhere in the middle. The Section meets on the first Tuesday of each month from October to June, except January. Each meeting typically consists of some social time often including a brief show and tell followed by a short business meeting. This is then followed by a talk on some aspect of paleontology delivered by professional paleontologist or a knowledgeable Section member. The professional speakers we draw generally come from western and central New York with an occasional speaker coming from further afield. We ensure the speakers are aware of the wide of experience and education within our group and request that they take this into account when addressing the Section.
The field season, in our north country location, runs from mid-April to mid-October and we strive to hold two field trips a month during this time. There have been times when a few hardy souls have stretched their time in the field to include the late Fall and early Spring months and there have even been the occasional foray into the field in January and February. In general our field trips cover central and western New York with occasional trips into the northern and eastern areas of the state. The majority of our excursions are long day trips though Section has hosted a couple of over-night trips in the past. The Section strives to present a range of field trip options throughout the summer to meet the desires of families with small children and the dedicated amateur. The bedrock geology of New York is composed largely of Devonian strata with significantly lesser amounts of Silurian and Ordovician and it is in the Devonian where we spend most of our collecting time. The paleogeography of the Devonian in the state, coupled with the geometry of the modern bedrock exposures, allows us to collect a broad range of paleo environments. Starting in the eastern part of the state and moving west, the amateur paleontologist can collect material from Devonian floodplains and rivers to shallow near-shore and deeper off-shore marine environments.
The Section puts out a monthly newsletter from October to June called the Fossiletter. Each issue typically consists of short articles written by a section members as well as paleo news culled from various on-line sources. The newsletter, as well at the Rochester Academy website, is also the primary means of communication for meeting agendas and the field trip schedule.
As a 501(c)(3) the Section is very active in community outreach and public education. Our monthly meetings are always open to the public and our field trips are also open to the public on a limited basis. Due to insurance issues non-members can participate in one or two field trips but past that point they are asked to join the Section officially due to liability issues. The Section participates in a number of annual outreach events including the Rochester Museum and Science Service Science Saturdays, St. John Fisher College Science Exploration Day and the Adirondack Mountain Club’s ADK Outdoor Expo at one of Rochester’s local parks. Section members also lead numerous field trips for interested members of the public as well as for classes from local school systems. In and most cases the activities and trips hosted by the Section represent the closest the public gets to fossils and the field of paleontology.
Over the years the Section has built good relations with paleontology professors and graduate students within New York State and the region. Section members are also active participants in the New York State Geological Association and activities hosted by the Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca such as their annual summer symposium. Several of our members are active researchers who collaborate and assist professional paleontologists conducting research in New York and adjacent states. Section members have co-authored papers which have been published in peer reviews journals and well as a book dealing with the Trilobite faunas of New York state.
As is common in many other areas of the country access to collecting sites is problematical owing to our current litigation-prone environment. The Section strives to build good relationships with those responsible for a specific locality whether they are the landowner or an organization responsible for the care of the site. All too often the landowner or organization has had bad experiences with irresponsible and undisciplined collectors. The Section actively tries to repair these relationships so a site is not lost to future researchers and amateurs. The Section strongly believes educated responsible amateurs can contribute greatly to the field of paleontology. In today’s era of tight budgets and funding restrictions, the amateur is likely to spend considerably more time in the field than many paleontology professionals. A dedicated, educated amateur can serve as the eyes for the professional who cannot make it into the field—and is uniquely positioned to serve as an educator so the importance and relevancy of paleontology is conveyed to the public.