By Steve Miller & Susan Passmore
The Western Interior Paleontological Society (WIPS) is a Colorado-based nonprofit organization that promotes scientific and educational activities related to paleontology. WIPS was formed in 1985 by a small group of paleontology enthusiasts who wanted to create a regional organization for anyone interested in fossils and the science of paleontology, as its name suggests. Today, WIPS has approximately 500 individual, family and institutional members—ranging from amateur/avocational to professional and academic.
Although not sponsored by a museum like some fossil clubs, WIPS holds its monthly meetings at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science from January through May and September through November. A number of the Society’s members are actively involved with the museum as volunteers and have earned museum certification in paleontology.
Each year, WIPS develops and offers about a dozen field trips to different places across the Western Interior and sometimes beyond. Field trips provide activities that appeal to a wide variety of paleontological interests—from casual responsible collecting, to geological/paleontological surveys, to providing or supporting research opportunities. For example, some WIPS field trip leaders have established cooperative relationships with the BLM and the USDA Forest Service to obtain special use permits and establish formal repository arrangements for scientifically important specimens.
WIPS takes the same thoughtful approach for its field trips on private land. WIPS members have visited an area northeast of Pueblo, Colorado, for over 20 years to collect Cretaceous-age marine fossils, and have made some significant discoveries there regarding the lives of mosasaurs and the identification of a new crustacean. Field trips to McCoy, Colorado, resulted in the discovery and description of a new species of Pennsylvanian crinoid, Sciadiocrinus wipsorum, which was named after WIPS.
Education and outreach are a growing part of WIPS’ activities. These efforts include working with schools to donate fossils for scientific instruction and participating in public events like Discovery Days at Dinosaur Ridge west of Denver. As one of the local earth science organizations that sponsor the annual Denver Gem & Mineral Show, WIPS always has a table at the Show, complete with activities for kids, (and information for adults) promoting paleontology. To celebrate the National Park Service’s National Fossil Day in 2013, WIPS presented a display and hands-on activities, and talked fossils with visitors, at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
On the professional side of outreach, WIPS is an Associated Society of the Geological Society of America, and participated in GSA’s 125th Annual Meeting in Denver in 2013. In addition to having an exhibit at the meeting, WIPS led a field trip to southeastern Colorado for GSA attendees.
Every other year, WIPS organizes and presents the Founders Symposium, created in 1999 to honor the individuals who formed the Society. This two-day event is a celebration of paleontology that features the work of professional scientists, avocational paleontologists, natural science artists and others through talks, posters and displays as well as workshops and occasional field trips. Symposium themes have included Ice Worlds and Their Fossils, Paleoclimates, Extinctions, and the Eocene/Oligocene. The next Founders Symposium—Fossils & Flight—will take place March 14-15, 2015 at the Colorado School of Mines.
Proceeds from the Founders Symposium, other fundraising activities and donations fund WIPS’ grant and scholarship programs. Since they began in the mid-1990s, these programs have provided over $30,000 to support research and education in paleontology.
Other activities that WIPS members are involved in include:
- Cataloging the fossil collection at the Colorado School of Mines, a task that involves tens of thousands of specimens some of which were collected by Arthur Lakes in the 19th century
- Forming special interest groups to study invertebrates and scout new locations for field trips based on old localities
- A WIPS Fossil Club for Kids, an active engaged sub-group for young people with its own set of field trips and meetings with hands-on learning activities
Membership in WIPS is open to anyone, whether you are slightly interested in fossils or have a deep and long-running passion for paleontology. To learn more about WIPS, visit westernpaleo.org, or check out the Society’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/WesternInteriorPaleontologicalSociety).