by Linda McCall, President
In preparing to write this article, I reviewed other articles on fossil clubs, and it struck me again how very similar, yet individual, fossil clubs/societies are. For the most part we are all 501c(3) organizations, formed between the ‘60s and ‘80s by amateurs with a passion for fossils and fossil collecting. We all have by-laws and mission statements, elected officers and a board of directors, hold regular meetings with guest speakers, produce newsletters, do lots of outreach, and collect in the field as often as we can get there. Most also have an annual “show,” a website and social media presence, and award grants, scholarships, and donations to students, professionals, and non-professionals. Many have an ethics policy, carry liability insurance, have professional advisors, and are affiliated with various other professional and non-professional organizations.
Club/Society members all across the country are an eclectic group of individuals who share a passion for paleontology and come from all walks of life: artists, doctors, plumbers, painters, computer geeks, soccer moms, retired folks (you name it, we’ve got it) and these folks bring with them a wide range of skill sets and abilities – some are good at outreach, some at organization, some at leading field trips, some at publishing, photography, technology, etc. – which all combine to create effective and impactful organizations. A member’s fossil knowledge can range from beginner level to those who work with professionals and are published in peer-reviewed journals. All are welcome.
So what about the North Carolina Fossil Club (NCFC)? I needed help with this article, as I have only been a member here for the past 6 years (a newbie), having moved from another state. The North Carolina Fossil Club is a 501c(3) organization, chartered on September 9, 1977, by passionate amateurs John Everette, Charles P. Green Jr., and Jack P. Gulley “to engage in a progressive program of planning and action designed to advance knowledge and interest in the study, collecting, and enjoyment of fossils; to bring fossil collecting enthusiasts together to share information on identification and collecting; and to distribute educational information.” The Club has tried to keep money out of the mix, emphasizing contributions to science, a focus on education, encouraging outreach, and keeping activities as free and open to the public as possible.
From those early days with a membership of about 35 in 1977, the club swelled to over 200 by the early 80s, in large part due to frequent access to Lee Creek Mine (then Texas Gulf). Though the mine stopped allowing access in 2009, our membership has remained stable and even increased thanks to the dedicated leadership of those before me – we have grown beyond just being collectors to being a group interested in the science of paleontology as well.
Today the NCFC is a fairly large club, hovering around 300 members, with about two-thirds being from North Carolina and the rest from 15 other states as well as Canada. Benefits of membership include:
- Access to the members’ only section of the website
- Access to current and past issues of JANUS online
- Voting privileges in Club business matters
- Eligibility to go on Club-sponsored field trips (with signed waiver)
- Discounted price on club publications
Amateurs and professionals of all ages comprise our membership, and people with all degrees of knowledge about fossils are welcome. Due to our state-wide pull for members, we meet every other month – with meetings being held at 1:30PM on the third Sunday of January, March, May, July, and September at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. Our November meeting coincides with our annual Fossil Fair and is moved around the state to different venues. Each meeting (excluding November) includes a guest speaker (generally a professional or knowledgeable club member) or other fossil related program, followed by a break (socializing and snacks), a general business meeting, a “show and tell” session (more socializing and finish off the snacks), and ends with a door prize give-away where many members receive fossils and fossil related items donated by other club members – a fun way to swap specimens from different localities among each other. The general public is always welcome. If a speaker has traveled a significant distance to be with us, we offer a donation to help them defray the cost of travel. Meetings usually draw between 35 and 60 members, though occasionally we pull 100+.
The NCFC has built long-lasting relationships with various professional organizations, including the Smithsonian and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, which have both been the recipients of many thousands of donated specimens over the years. Vince Schneider, a founding member of the NCFC (and still active member) is also currently the Curator of Paleontology for the museum. We also have deep ties to the Aurora Fossil Museum, Schiele Museum of Natural History, Durham Museum of Life and Science, North Carolina State University, and Appalachian State University – to name just a few.
Our newsletter is called “JANUS” and is published quarterly. It contains dates and information on upcoming club events and fossil related articles. Our website is fast becoming the primary means for club communication, and is usually our first point of contact with the general public. Our homepage contains our history, information on our outreach activities and events, our education and research support endeavors, as well as current news, a link to our online store, and a list of upcoming events. Tabs at the top include our calendar, contact info, membership info, trip reports, fossil ID section, and a link to our publications – as well as a members’ only tab that is visible once you become a member, which gives you access to all the past issues of JANUS, a current club roster, copies of our by-laws, Rules of Procedure, Code of Conduct, and a map to area collecting sites.
The North Carolina Fossil Club organizes, facilitates, and encourages educational outreach by members to schools, museums, and public events. We are the face of paleontology to the general public in our communities. During the spring and fall, some members lead school groups into coastal quarries to collect fossils and learn about the conditions under which those fossils formed. Members also give presentations to scouting and civic groups. Other members frequently take programs to schools, providing hands-on opportunities to find fossils, and learn about geologic history. Many club members regularly display at a number of annual fossil events in North Carolina including: Dino Egg Hunt at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC; the Schiele Museum Fossil Fair in Gastonia, NC; the Aurora Fossil Festival in Aurora, NC; and Norwood Arbor Day and Fossil Fair in Norwood, NC.
Our largest outreach event of the year is our annual Fossil Fair. Unlike most club/society annual events that are held in the same place every year, our Fossil Fair moves around the state to different venues, allowing underserved communities the opportunity to experience paleontology and fossils up close and personal – sometimes for the first time in their lives. Our members exhibit fossils from their own collections, answering questions and interacting with the public on a one-on-one basis. Our partners from the Smithsonian, Aurora Fossil Museum, folks from the Schiele and from Appalachian State, etc. also frequently attend and provide fossil identification and education to club members and the public, while in turn, these visiting experts gain information on fossils discovered in NC. The public is encouraged to bring in things that they have found to be identified. Educational speakers make presentations on topics of interest throughout the day. All of these events and activities are lots of fun for all ages!
The NCFC really shines when it comes to club-originated publishing. Three fossil identification guides authored by two club members have been available since 1994. Presently, fifteen club members are assisting editor Richard Chandler in writing Volumes I – IV of Fossils of North Carolina, currently in press. These books are the culmination of 15 years of ongoing effort, photography, and research – and are on par with many professional publications. Volumes I, II, and III have already been released, with Volume IV hopefully coming out in early 2017.
We also partner with the professional paleontological community. The Smithsonian, NC State, and others have benefited greatly from the thousands of specimens NCFC members have donated over the years. Becky and Frank Hyne and Pete Harmatuk were honored in a ceremony by the Smithsonian for their extensive donations, and innumerable publications based on these specimens and those donated by many other club members have been written. Club members Becky Hyne, Pete Harmatuk, Mike Milton, Judy Schneider, Vince Schneider, and Bob and Judi Mefford all have had one or more species named for them. Several club members are also active researchers who assist and collaborate with professional paleontologists. A number of members have co-authored papers that have been published in peer-reviewed journals. Members Gerald R. Case, Peter J. Harmatuk, and Peter LeGrand Smith received the Strimple Award given by the Paleontological Society – the highest award an amateur can receive. In addition, we frequently donate money to aid in research, travel, or to other needs of our professional affiliates.
Last but not least… Collecting in the field is what got most fossil clubs/societies going and the NCFC is no exception. We have two organized collecting seasons, Spring (lasting from mid-March to early June) and Fall (lasting from late September to early December). Intrepid individuals within the club collect all year round. Due to all the rain and groundcover in North Carolina, most collecting is done in quarries and along creeks and rivers. The majority of these are in-state single day trips, but occasionally we venture further afield, to South Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio. Once a year or so we head out west to Texas, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, or the like.
Our hobby, beyond being a fascinating one, adds to the body of knowledge we have about our planet and its history, instilling in us a sense of responsibility as well as a zeal to collect. As do other clubs/societies, we strongly believe that educated responsible amateurs can contribute greatly to the field of paleontology. North Carolina is unique in having strata dating from the Ediacaran to the Pleistocene – a span of 525 million years. We are uniquely positioned to be the eyes and ears of the professionals in the field, with the time invested and the experience in our respective areas to make a real difference and bring to light many specimens that otherwise would deteriorate to dust and be lost to science forever.
What are we waiting for? Time to get back in the field!
To learn more:
Visit the club website at http://www.ncfossilclub.org/