Dry Dredgers Report on Cincinnati Paleontology Mini-Conference

dry dredgersedited by Jack Kallmeyer

The Cincinnati Mini Conference was held on June 2nd through June 5th and all of the feedback thus far has been quite positive. I felt it appropriate to provide a summation of the events to keep the Dry Dredgers members informed about what happened and where this all leads.

Big Bone Lick Tour by Jack Kallmeyer

The Friends of Big Bone sponsored a tour of the famous birthplace of American vertebrate paleontology. The tour began at 2:00 PM on June 2nd and was led by Dr. Glenn Storrs from the Cincinnati Museum Center. Around thirty people attended this tour and feedback that I received from those that attended was that the tour was excellent. If you recall the weather for this weekend there were scattered thunderstorms all around the area. This tour ended just before one of those storms came through the area.

We’d like to thank the FOBB for setting up this tour and Dr. Storrs for being kind enough to be an expert tour guide.

Keynote Address & Tour by Jack Kallmeyer

Friday night featured a keynote address by Dr. Tony Martin of Emory University. While Dr. Martin was the keynote speaker for our FOSSIL conference, the Museum Center also made this talk a part of their Insight Lecture Series. Attendance was between 75 and 100. Dr. Martin’s energetic style and interesting subject matter kept the audience riveted.

Following the talk, the Museum Center guided conference participants on a tour of the Cincinnati Under the Sea exhibit. This was well received by everyone. People were fascinated by the exhibit and by the interpretations given by Professors Dave Meyer and Carl Brett. Dr. Brenda Hunda attended as well and was able to add to the cadre of professional paleontologists assisting on the tour.

We owe a great deal of thanks to the Cincinnati Museum Center for keeping the Cincinnati Under the Sea exhibit open for our conference in the midst of their preparations for Union Terminal remodeling. Glenn Storrs had secured the buy-in for our event from the Museum right after our planning meeting in Dallas, with the assurance that these exhibits would remain open until after our conference. They held true to their word despite the extra pressure this put on their staff for exhibit removal.

Photo courtesy of Jan Pullum
Photo courtesy of Jan Pullum

Tony Martin giving keynote talk
Tony Martin giving keynote talk

Touring Cincinnati Under the Sea Exhibit
Touring Cincinnati Under the Sea Exhibit

Cincinnati Mini Conference Field Trip Report by Kyle Hartshorn

Starting in 2014, the Dry Dredgers have been engaged in the FOSSIL Project, a National Science Foundation funded project to improve collaboration between amateur and professional paleontologists (see myfossil.org for more details). The FOSSIL Project sponsors an annual “mini conference” to serve as a meetup for members of various fossil clubs, professional paleontologists, and science educators. Last year’s mini conference was held in Dallas, Texas, in conjunction with the 2015 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) meeting (see the January 2016 Dry Dredgers bulletin). Given the fossil richness of the Cincinnati Arch, the prominence of the club, and our laudable working relationship with professional paleontologists, the Dry Dredgers were selected to host the 2016 mini conference.

Like any self-respecting paleontology conference, the Cincinnati mini conference required a slate of field trips. Having been to a local outcrop or two, I volunteered for field trip planning duties, with the aim of providing visitors of a rough summary of the type Cincinnatian: top to bottom and east to west. Over the course of this past winter and spring Jack Kallmeyer and I undertook a series of scouting field trips to confirm driving routes and verify the fossiliferousness of proposed stops. I had originally planned a fair number of stops for each day, but this was cut down when we realized that we had limited time and needed to ensure that everyone had enough time to collect. Friday would have just two stops, while Sunday could afford three.

In late May, Jack, University of Cincinnati’s Dr. Carl Brett, and I assembled a 40 page field trip guide to provide attendees with a brief background on Cincinnatian paleontology and stratigraphy, as well as descriptions of each stop. This guide was completed in the nick of time, thanks to a few all-nighters, and Jack arranged for high quality printing and binding.

Field Trip 1: Friday, June 3rd

To maximize collecting time, attendees assembled at 6:00 AM, congregating at the Radisson Hotel in west Covington. University of Cincinnati’s Dr. Dave Meyer provided doughnuts and coffee, both gladly accepted. As sometimes happens with events of this scale, we had a number of participants cancel at the last minute, a few late arrivals, and a bit of a muddled start.

Most of the 50 or so attendees chose to ride in the rental vans provided by the FOSSIL Project staff, with only a handful of independent drivers. The majority of attendees were not local, including groups from Illinois, Michigan, Florida, and the Carolinas, among other regions. Each van contained at least one Dry Dredger to help point out the Cincinnatian sights. Taking inspiration from Carl Brett’s class field trips, I also supplied each vehicle with a two way radio. These handy devices helped keep the caravan together and also allowed me (and a few others) to inform the party about the passing scenery and geology.

Our first stop was to be the large Maysville roadcut familiar to most Dry Dredgers. Thus, we headed out along the AA Highway. Though the eastward journey was foggy, attendees were able to see many of the AA’s famous outcrops. As we neared Maysville, we even noted a few new cuts being blasted: small, but exposing fresh blue-grey limestone most likely from the Grant Lake Formation.

Due to our somewhat late departure and a Maysvillian bathroom stop, we arrived at the big US 68 roadcut about an hour behind schedule. We met Carl Brett at the base of the hill, down in the shaly Alexandria Submember of the Kope Formation, where he provided an introduction to the geology of the Cincinnati Arch and showed off some interesting trace fossils and sedimentary structures. After a group photo, we proceeded to walk up through the roadcut, inspecting the strata and fauna along the way. Unfortunately, given our tardiness, we were unable to spend as much time on the outcrop as I had originally planned. Many typical Cincinnatian fossils were found, but people did not spend as much time collecting as they would have liked. We had barely made it up to the Fairview Formation when we had to leave for lunch.

Said lunch was served at the Maysville-Mason County Recreation Park lake shelter. Jack Kallmeyer had gone ahead and picked up a suitable number of sandwiches catered by a Maysville Subway. Dan Cooper generously donated a side dish: a cup of enrolled Flexicalymene trilobites, one for each attendee.

After lunch, the party drove south of Flemingsburg (our departure was not delayed by Maysville locals and a snapping turtle, as happened to Jack). There we encountered a series of highly fossiliferous roadcuts exposing the Corryville Member of the Grant Lake Formation. The site was littered with thousands of Vinlandostrophia ponderosa, as well as a fossil that is quite rare elsewhere: the red algae (or perhaps chaetetid sponge) Solenopora. These calcareous lumps look eerily brain-like, provoking a cascade of cerebral humor from various attendees.

After an interval of intense collecting, Carl Brett took us a few miles down the road to a cut he and his students are using as a reference section for the upper Grant Lake Formation and Arnheim Formation in that region. He walked us up the section, describing the sequence stratigraphic significance of each interval and showed a recent discovery: stromatoporoid biostromes within the upper Corryville and Mount Auburn Members of the Grant Lake Formation, a callback to similar (albeit millions of years older) occurrences in the Lexington Limestone. Nancy Swartz also made a very rare and important find: a colonial coral, likely fallen down from the Mount Auburn biostrome (or perhaps the overlying Sunset biostrome).

Slaves to a timeline beyond our control, we had to leave the outcrop at about 2:30. We arrived back in Covington with plenty of time to allow for dinner and cleanup before the evening’s events: a lecture at the Cincinnati Museum by ichnologist Dr. Anthony Martin—an attendee of both field trips—and a special tour of the Cincinnati Under the Sea exhibit (now disassembled for the upcoming museum renovations).

Field Trip June 3rd - Maysville
Field Trip June 3rd – Maysville

Photo courtesy of Jan Pullum
Photo courtesy of Jan Pullum

Compare a Flexicalymeme found in the field with one prepped by Dry Dredgers member Dan Cooper
Compare a Flexicalymeme found in the field with one prepped by Dry Dredgers member Dan Cooper

Photo courtesy of Jan Pullum
Photo courtesy of Jan Pullum

Field Trip 2: Sunday, June 5th

As on Friday, Sunday’s party met at 6:00 in the morning at the Radisson, with roughly the same number of attendees. Also as on Friday, we ended up leaving slightly behind schedule.

This time we headed west along I-71 then north to Vevay, Indiana. There we stopped at an exposure of the upper Fairview Formation and the Bellevue and Corryville Members of the Grant Lake Formation, with a sliver of Mount Auburn at the top (though different in lithology from the rubbly Mount Auburn many of us are used to near Cincinnati). This proved to be one of the most popular stops of the conference, as large, loose fossils covered the hillside. In particular, Vinlandostrophia ponderosa and Hebertella brachiopods, nautiloid cephalopods, and interesting bryozoans rolled out of the hills with reckless abandon. A few lucky collectors even found Flexicalymene trilobites. Carl Brett and Ben Dattilo met up with us just as we were concluding our collections, and helped to identify finds and explain the general stratigraphy.

Vevay, Indiana Photo courtesy of Jan Pullum
Vevay, Indiana Photo courtesy of Jan Pullum

An encrusting bryozoan from the Vevay field site
An encrusting bryozoan from the Vevay field site

We then headed still further west, to the great US 421 roadcut north of Madison, Indiana. This outcrop has one of Indiana’s best southern exposures of the Waynesville and Liberty Formations, and attendees were able to collect Richmondian brachiopods and corals. Though we were somewhat behind schedule so too were our lunches. The Madison Subway in charge of the catering had only just begun to make our sandwiches when Jack arrived. Thus, we had an extra 30 minutes or so on the outcrop, allowing Carl Brett to lead a stratigraphic expedition up through the Saluda Member of the Whitewater Formation and show off the “Madison Reef”. A few of us were even able to make it up to the Ordovician-Silurian boundary where the Hitz beds (=Upper Whitewater) meet the “Golden” Brassfield Formation.

Receiving word from Jack that our order was finally complete, we returned to Madison proper and debarked along the town’s riverside park for a well-earned lunch along a scenic stretch of the Ohio River. After lunch, one of the vans parted company and returned to Cincinnati with attendees needing to leave early. Carl Brett and Ben Dattilo also split off, intent on geologizing across the river in Kentucky. The rest of us headed north to I-74, passing through Versailles along the way. Once at I-74, we headed east to an exit well known to most Dry Dredgers: Indiana Route 1.

Our final stop was the great Route 1 roadcut north of Saint Leon, Indiana, where we were met by the notorious Steve Felton. As is usual for our field trips to the site, participants quickly glommed onto the minuens “butter shale” to hunt for Flexicalymene retrorsa minuens. Several attendees found a few of these tiny trilobites. Meanwhile, Dr. Alycia Stigall (Ohio University) and I looked for Richmondian brachiopods (especially Glyptorthis insculpta) in the basal Liberty, where I accidentally found a large-ish Flexicalymene retrosa and possibly a fragment of a starfish arm.

After about two hours of collecting, the vans returned to Covington, and the end of the 2016 Cincinnati mini conference.

Conference Events June 4th by Jack Kallmeyer

All of the events on Saturday June 4th took place at the Geier Collections and Research Facility. We provided coffee and doughnuts plus cold drinks throughout the day. A pizza lunch was provided. We had a two hour break for dinner and the most expedient way to do this was to bring in City BBQ. This was a big hit for those who stayed for the after dinner session with the Paleontological Society.

Morning sessions

Professor Carl Brett of the University of Cincinnati started us off with a talk covering the stratigraphy of the Kope to tie in with the previous day’s field trip. This was a shorter version of the talk professor Brett gave to the Dry Dredgers earlier this year.

Professor Alycia Stigall of Ohio University followed Carl with an introduction into the Richmondian invasion as a prelude to the field trips the next day. Professor Stigall and her students have given talks to the Dry Dredgers covering this over the past couple of years.

Both of these talks included comments concerning amateur involvement with professional research.

In order to show Cincinnatian paleontology from the amateur’s side including working with professionals, Jack Kallmeyer gave a presentation of his work on the newly discovered and published crinoid from the Kope, Glyptocrinus nodosus.

Jack Kallmeyer giving his presentation
Jack Kallmeyer giving his presentation

Afternoon Sessions

During and following the lunch break, conference attendees enjoyed tours of the Geier collections. Dr. Glenn Storrs enthralled people with things on the vertebrate side while professor Dave Meyer filled in for Dr. Brenda Hunda on the invertebrate side. The tours were handled in three groups to make them manageable. Groups who were not on the tour enjoyed the poster session exhibited by students, professionals and clubs.

Glenn Storrs giving a tour
Glenn Storrs giving a tour of the Geier vertebrate collections

Dave Meyer leading a tour of the Geier invertebrate collections
Dave Meyer leading a tour of the Geier invertebrate collections

Poster Session
Poster Session

Following the tours, everyone split in to three groups based upon their interest in three breakout sessions: Incorporating paleontology into K12 education; Taphonomy and Biostratinomy; and eMuseum brainstorming. While the first two session topics listed are self explanatory, I think the last one needs further explanation. The myFOSSIL website has a section for users to upload photos of their fossils. I’ve uploaded a few of mine there. The eMuseum topic was a discussion for a more formal way to upload fossil photos so that the data included with the photo would be sufficient to allow it to be uploaded to the cloud databases like iDigBio. Thus, this would make the data from your fossils an integral part of a research database. Typically, information from the fossils in your personal collections wouldn’t end up in a research database until donated to a museum. One concern expressed pertained to publishing exact locality data as rare fossils oftentimes need the localities protected. This would be resolved by having the locality viewable by the public as a very general location. Researchers would be able to access the exact data if needed.

Evening Session

Professor Arnie Miller of the University of Cincinnati and Professor Steve Holland of the University of Georgia ran the evening session. Professor Miller is the incoming President of the Paleontological Society and Professor Holland is the outgoing President. Over the past year or so, both Arnie and Steve have been working on a way to increase amateur/avocational involvement in the Paleontological Society. The Paleontological Society recognizes the value of the amateur community and its role in advancing paleontological studies. Their action plan is exciting news for the amateur community. It features: discounted dues to the Paleontological Society with full member benefits; establishing a webpage on the PS website devoted to amateurs or using the myFOSSIL community website; inviting the amateur community to elect a liaison person to the Paleontological Society Council; inviting amateurs to attend professional conventions like NAPC at reduced rates; and sponsor FOSSIL Project webinars. This news was well received by the audience.

Some discussion followed. One interesting point of semantics came up – what should “we” be called? Should we be referred to as “amateurs” or “avocational paleontologists?” In a survey done by FOSSIL, the amateur community indicated that being referred to as amateurs was our preferred choice. The Paleontological Society however feels that avocational paleontologist would be better. From their viewpoint, “amateur” carries a negative connotations, i.e., think of “amateurish” and you can see their point. So, we’ll see. While amateur doesn’t bother us, we may gain more respect by being called avocational paleontologists.

Chuck Ferrara from the Southwest Fossil Society suggested that the Paleontological Society consider allowing club membership. Chuck’s idea is that this type of membership would require vetting by the PS before a club could be recognized. This vetting process would include how a club operates, what outreach and educational goals they have, and their ethics regarding collecting.

We ended the evening with door prizes. FOSSIL gave away special FOSSIL field notebooks to randomly selected people in attendance who were members of the myFOSSIL website. The Dry Dredgers supplied a half dozen T-shirts and a book on Patagonian Dinosaurs.

Points of Interest by Jack Kallmeyer

Planning and execution of an event like this requires precision performance of multiple events at precise times so that everything flows throughout. When done well, conference attendees can enjoy their time without being affected by bumps and glitches in timing. One of these juggling performances required ne to pick up lunches for the Friday field trip in Maysville and deliver them to a pre-arranged picnic spot for the group. Once dropped off, I had to return to Cincinnati immediately to get the chairs set up for the Saturday conferences at the Geier Collections and Research Center. All went smoothly until I tried leaving the Maysville picnic shelter to return to the Geier. The shelter is on a narrow one way drive surrounding a small lake. I had the misfortune to get behind someone else on the way out. At one point the drive crosses the earthen dam that formed the lake. The drop off was steep on both sides down to the lake level about 15 feet below. At this point, the folks in front of me decided to “rescue” a turtle that was just at the edge of the road. They stopped, blocking my exit. With the wife as driver, the husband exited the passenger side to walk around and get the turtle. This poor fellow had leg issues and could hardly walk. He grabs the turtle by the rear of the shell and starts to pick it up when . . . it almost got him – it was a snapper! Undeterred by this near miss, the wife gives the husband a canvas shopping bag to use while giving me the “wait just a minute finger.” Rather than trying to get the turtle in the bag, the husband throws the bag on top of the turtle using it like an oven hot pad to pick him up. The husband hobbles over to the lake side of the road and – remember, the original purpose was to rescue the turtle – throws it down the embankment! I couldn’t tell if the turtle landed on grass or the rocks at the edge of the lake but apparently, more rescuing was in order. The husband could not get down the steep embankment so the wife goes down to do the final rescue (or burial). Luckily for me, the husband got in the car and drove twenty feet ahead and off the road at a pull off thus ending my time eating ordeal. Despite this, I did get to the Geier on time. No idea if the turtle survived his rescue.
After the Insight Lecture by Dr. Martin on Friday night, everyone got an after hours tour of the Cincinnati Under the Sea exhibit. One of the museum staff members escorted the group down through the museum to the exhibit. I was with Lee Cone from the Friends of the Aurora Museum club and we had missed the guided group. Not to worry though as I knew my way down to the exhibit so off we went. I only know one way to get there and that is through the ice age exhibit. Unbeknownst to me, the museum had turned off all but very dim emergency lights in that exhibit. The main group had indeed gone another way. We trudged on anyway using our cell phones to provide additional light. We did make it through safely but I must say, the ice age exhibit is a bit spooky in the dark.

Tom Bantel was helpful during the field trips as one of our local experts providing insight to our out of town guests. Tom is very detail and safety oriented so he provided cautionary advice when needed to keep our friends safe. In this role, on the Sunday stop at Vevay, Tom observed a safety hazard and he alerted people to the dangerously slippery conditions in the ditch near where the vans had parked. The ditch had wet mud covered with an algal mat that posed a slip and fall hazard. After informing everyone he could of this condition, Tom promptly stepped in the ditch and fell down himself. I can only presume this was his way to demonstrate just how dangerous this was to everyone. We appreciated Tom’s sacrifice but as he tells me, at least four other people did the same thing he did upon exiting the vans. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

Dan Cooper also provided local expert guidance for our visitors. Once again Dan demonstrated his generous nature by proving enrolled Flexicalymene retrorsa trilobites from Mt. Orab for everyone on the Friday field trip. Dan couldn’t attend the Sunday field trip but he still provided prone Flexi’s in matrix for all on the Sunday trip as well. This gesture was most appreciated by all those in attendance since the likelihood of finding a trilobite on a one time field trip is slim. Dan didn’t want anyone to go home disappointed.

Apparently, the local cuisine is an acquired taste. My friend Chuck Ferrara from the Southwest Florida Fossil Society is a big White Castle fan. Chuck convinced Lee Cone from Aurora to go there for dinner one night. Lee said he didn’t think anyone could mess up mac and cheese until he had the White Castle mac and cheese nibblers. This duo also ate at Skyline and declared it “different, but not bad.” By the way, Chuck drove from Florida to the conference and he tells me he took 100 White Castles back with him in a cooler! That’s dedication.

Our conference marks the fourth FOSSIL sponsored event that I have been able to attend. I have met and become friends with a number of other fossil club presidents over that time. I was proud to hear some of the things these other presidents said to me about the Dry Dredgers. To paraphrase, the Dry Dredgers are viewed as being at the top of their game doing everything right. We have professional involvement from university professors and the museum, we have members involved in publication and active research, and we are nationally known and highly respected.

People Who Made This Work by Jack Kallmeyer

The following Dry Dredgers and professionals all stepped up to my request for help in making our conference successful. All were key in getting things done on time and I sincerely thank all of them.

  • Professor Dave Meyer
  • Professor Carlton Brett
  • Professor Alycia Stigall
  • Professor Ben Dattilo
  • Professor Arnie Miller
  • Professor Steve Holland
  • Dr. Tony Martin
  • Dr. Brenda Hunda
  • Dr. Glenn Storrs
  • Kyle Hartshorn
  • Dean Swartz
  • Nancy Swartz
  • Dan Cooper
  • Tom Bantel
  • Bill Heimbrock
  • John Simon
  • Rich Fuchs
  • Don Bissett
  • Debby Scheid
  • Becky Algenio
  • Robert Marsh
  • Angelica Smith
  • Bruce Gibson
  • Charlotte Gibson
  • Bob Bross

Eleanor Gardner deserves a huge thank you from me especially. Eleanor was the project coordinator from FOSSIL with whom I communicated daily as we worked out the details of this conference. Her experience and project management skills were paramount to making the conference a success.

General Statistics by Jack Kallmeyer

  • Over 80 people registered for this conference
  • About 30 people attended the Big Bone Lick tour Over 50 people attended each field trip
  • Between 75 and 100 people attended the keynote talk by Dr Tony Martin
  • Between 60 and 70 people attended the events at the Geier on Saturday
  • There were about a dozen posters exhibited for the poster session at the Geier
  • Fifteen Dry Dredgers assisted in the organization or execution of the conference
  • Nine professional paleontologists were actively involved in the conference
  • Registrants came from many States: Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana, Delaware, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin.

Limited Book Copies by Jack Kallmeyer
Our original plan included giving away a “goody bag” to each registrant that would include a copy of Cincinnati Fossils and the standard Dry Dredgers tri-fold brochures. The plan ran amok when registration exceeded our original estimate and the Museum Center sold completely out of Cincinnati Fossils. Compounding this was the fact the Museum Center would not be printing any more copies of this book until they reopen in two or three years. This meant that the Dry Dredgers would have none available for new members who wished to buy one at our meetings. The situation caused us to request that local Dry Dredgers turn down the goody bags since they already had these items. The members responded to this request and helped assure that our out of town guests all received one and that new members will be able to obtain one in the future as well. My thanks to these Dry Dredgers for their flexibility.

Survey Response by Jack Kallmeyer
As mentioned earlier, the FOSSIL program is a National Science Foundation funded effort. FOSSIL is accountable to the NSF for results based upon their grant criteria. Because of this, FOSSIL has sent out a survey to participants of the conference for feedback. If you receive one of these surveys please take the time to respond.

In addition, specifically to meet NSF requirements, FOSSIL needs to get feedback about their efforts overall outside of this conference activity. To this end, I have provided members’ email addresses to FOSSIL for this use only. You will not be spammed! They will not share the email list with anyone. Please respond to the survey as it will help FOSSIL as they move forward.

What’s Next for FOSSIL? by Jack Kallmeyer & Eleanor Gardner
The next event with FOSSIL participation will be at a short course & exhibition (along with research presentations) at the national GSA 2016 in Denver, CO, Sept 23-28 2016. After that, FOSSIL intends to be involved in an oral & poster theme session at the joint Northeastern / North-Central GSA regional meeting in Pittsburgh, PA, March 19-21, 2017. There is a possibility that the March event could become a mini conference similar to ours here in Cincinnati but that is not known at this time.