Friday, 04 August 2017 07:00

Digging for fossils a unique experience

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Fossil Fever participants look for fossils. Fossil Fever participants look for fossils. Photo courtesy Parks Canada

The thrill of finding an ancient fossil from a time when the dinosaurs were still roaming the earth is usually only experienced by paleontologists, but visitors to the Grasslands National Park can actually share in that excitement when they participate in Fossil Fever.


This event takes place in the East Block of Grasslands National Park from Aug. 16-20. It is a unique opportunity to hunt for fossils alongside scientists from the Royal Saskatchewan Museum and McGill University.
Brenda Peterson, the interpretation officer co-ordinator at Grasslands National Park, said the event is popular.
“This is the best experience when it comes to paleontology that you can get,” she said. “It is truly amazing and the people that leave here are just elated having been part of it.”
This will be the fifth year the event takes place and it does not take long for the available spots to fill up.
“If we could dig longer and harder more people could go, but it’s only reserved for 12 people per day,” she said.
Fossil Fever takes place over a five-day period and each day provides an opportunity for 12 people to look for fossils in the desolate badlands of the park.
“We go out every day into the middle of the Valley of 1,000 Devils and do the dig under Dr. Emily Bamforth’s direction,” she said.
Dr. Bamforth is a paleontologist and curatorial assistant at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum's T.rex Discovery Centre in Eastend. Each summer she coordinates field work excursions with scientists and students from McGill University to fossil sites in Grasslands National Park and other locations in southwest Saskatchewan.
Fossil Fever presents the only opportunity for members of the public to take part in these field work activities in Grasslands National Park.
“She teaches the visitors what fossils are, what to look for so that people will get a chance to prospect,” Peterson explained. “They get a little bag and they put their stuff in the bag and then they turn it in at the end of the day. Emily identifies what they found.”
Fossil Fever participants come from across Canada for this experience and they represent a wide age group.
“The youngest that came was probably six and the oldest probably 80,” she said. “We bring walking sticks to help people get up and over the years we found that the best way is to hike in. We give them a ride to a certain spot and then we have to walk in. It’s about a 45-minute hike into the site because there is no road and in Grasslands you have to only drive on roads.”
The excursion includes lunch in the badlands and at the end of the day the participants can relax at the campground while they enjoy a country hoedown.
Fossil Fever is the only opportunity for visitors to a national park in Canada to take part in a dig for fossils. There is a guided hike to the Burgess Shale in the Rocky Mountains, but it does not involve any collection of fossils.
“They will take you on a hike to where the Burgess Shale is, but they’ll hike you out and they’ll hike you back but you don’t get to do a dig,” she said.
Peterson noted the Burgess Shale guided hike was used as an inspiration for the creation of the Fossil Fever event.
The Grasslands National Park is always looking at opportunities to create a unique experience for park visitors.
There will be another opportunity to learn more about the park’s past from paleontologists at the Badlands Blast, which takes place Aug. 19 at 2 p.m. at the Rock Creek campground in the East Block.
“The Blast is a celebration of the dig,” she said. “Throughout history, whenever the paleontology people had a good find and they finished the dig, they always had a celebration and so that’s what our Blast is.”
There will be various activities at the Badlands Blast, including different activities for children and wagon rides to show people the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary.
“You can look out into the badlands into those hoodoos and at specific spots you can see the line that marks the extinction of the dinosaurs,” she said. “So that’s part of the wagon ride, because the wagon ride is interpretative.”
There will be a supper for Badlands Blast participants that starts at 5 p.m. and at around 7 p.m. there will be a presentation by Dr. Bamforth and other paleontologists.
“It’s just great to hear her,” Peterson said. “She always has a PowerPoint to go with it and shares her adventures as a paleontologist here in the East Block and in Saskatchewan. Then when we’ve finished with the presentation we have a good old-fashioned hoedown. We have all local musicians and we play and sing and dance. It’s really fun.”
The cost to participate in Fossil Fever is $73.60 per person. For more information and to register, phone 306-476-2018.
The cost to attend Badlands Blast is $22 per adult, $10.80 per youth, or $54.80 per family. For more information, phone 1-877-345-2257 or send an e-mail to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Matthew Liebenberg

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