by Michael Sternberg, President, Friends of Stonerose Fossils
Editors note: Friends of Stonerose Fossils is the actual 501c3 corporation which operates the Stonerose Interpretive Center and Eocene Fossil Site. The Board of Directors meet monthly and anyone is welcome to attend. The Board members organize fundraising activities to support the organization and regularly assist at Dino Day at the Burke Museum. Board members also represent Stonerose at a number of regional fairs, festivals and other public events. The Board is currently developing a list of potential volunteer opportunities in preparation for next season. They have identified two areas as potentially attractive for the right volunteers: working in collections management and on the database. A longer-range goal is to develop intern programs for undergraduate and graduate students, although that requires additional funding.
What’s cheaper, and more entertaining, than taking the family to a movie? It’s visiting Stonerose Interpretive Center to dig for fossils! Nestled in the mountains of northeastern Washington state, Stonerose attracts 5,000-9,000 visitors (that’s more than the entire county population) each year including foreign visitors from more than 25 countries.
Stonerose is celebrating its 25th year as a 501(c)3 educational nonprofit that provides public access to Eocene age lake bed fossils. We also offer educational outreach to schools and interested organizations, and have active research of our collections.
Stonerose began as the result of a serendipitous trip in the mid 1970’s undertaken by Wes Wehr and a teenager by the name of Kirk Johnson. Wesley C. Wehr was Affiliate Curator of Paleobotany at the Burke Museum who relied on others to drive him around the state looking for fossils. He enlisted the newly licensed Kirk (now Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History) to check out fossil localities in Eastern Washington State. Republic fossils had been previously studied by J. Umpleby in 1910, E. W. Berry in 1929 and Wolfe and Barghoorn in 1960, but were considered relatively insignificant.
Kirk returned home to later continue professionally as a paleobotanist, but Wes returned to Republic convinced that the Republic fossils were much more abundant and diverse than previous researchers reported. As a result of his persistence, Dr. Jack Wolfe and Wes later published a groundbreaking USGS Bulletin on the fossil flora in Republic.
What makes Stonerose unique?
- Public access to dig fossils in our quarry
- Retention of scientifically significant fossils for research
- Association of the finder with each specimen in the collections.
- Active collaboration with researchers
- K-12 education and outreach programs
- High diversity of flora (particularly the Rose family, Rosaceae) and insects.
Stonerose owns a fossil quarry located in the city of Republic, WA just a short walk from our Interpretive Center. Visitors register at the Center and are given an introductory orientation describing the geology of the site and how to best collect fossils. After successfully finding fossils, the diggers return to the Center to have the specimens examined and identified. Any specimen of scientific significance is retained by Stonerose, but diggers are allowed to keep three fossils per day. Whether our visitors dig or not, our interpretive displays provide a glimpse of life long past.
If a specimen is retained, the finder’s name and contact information is recorded on an accession card and kept with the fossil. If the specimen is determined to not be significant by our scientist team, the fossil is returned to the finder. We encourage researchers to acknowledge the finder in any publications and in many cases that acknowledgement has been by naming the new taxon after the finder! Follow-up letters inform the finder if their specimen has been referenced in a scientific paper, and when possible we include a copy of the paper for them to enjoy.
The Stonerose fossil site is a lacustrine (lake) deposit in the Tom Thumb Tuff member of the Klondike Mountain Formation dated to about 48-49 MY. The flora (300+ taxa) is an upland temperate forest with many extant families represented, such as birch, alder, elm, and many members of the Rose family. Several plant families, that are now only found in Eastern Asia and Southeastern United States, show up in our fossil record. Metasequoia is the predominant conifer, but several dozen other genera are also present. Vertebrate fossils consist mainly of fish including Eosalmo (earliest known salmonid), and birds (feathers and 2 partial skeletons). Over 60 insect families are present and aquatic invertebrates are also found. Because of the depositional setting, the fossil preservation is remarkable, which is of great value to our digging visitors as well as to our researchers.
We house more than 8,000 specimens in our collections, which are documented in our proprietary database STRATA©. The database is extensive in scope. It is used to collect visitor information, track memberships and donations, catalog the collection with finder, taxonomy, and other specimen data and more. Drs. Kathleen Pigg (ASU), Melanie DeVore (GCSU), Bruce Archibald (SFU) and Conrad Labandeira (NMNH) have current research projects involving Stonerose specimens.
Stonerose Interpretive Center and Eocene Fossil site is, to our knowledge, unique in the world of paleontology. We offer family friendly opportunities to collect beautiful fossils while preserving the scientifically important record of this diverse paleo-environment. Our education outreach includes giving kids a chance to find a fossil at the Burke Museum annual Dino Day, visiting K-12 schools and hosting National Fossil Day events.
We invite you to visit us and share in the experience of discovery of ancient fossil life. More at www.stonerosefossil.org.