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Fossil Collectors’ Paradise

Most residents of Cincinnati are probably unaware that its local fossils can be viewed in museums all over the world.

Date: 12/16/2004
By: Billie Dziech
Phone: 513.556.1707
Most residents of Cincinnati are probably unaware that its local fossils can be viewed in museums all over the world. Now Trammel Fossil Park in Sharonville offers Cincinnatians a unique opportunity to understand what all the attention is about.

The story of Trammel Park actually begins 440 million years ago when shallow seas covered North America during what is called the Ordovician Period. The bedrock underlying Cincinnati and the Tristate region was formed at this time and has been intensely studied for over 150 years because of its good exposure at the surface and its abundant and well preserved fossils. In fact, the layers of limestone and shale composing the bedrock serve as a scientific standard for comparison throughout North America and are called the “Cincinnatian Series.”

The next chapter in the park’s story involves local developer, R.L. Trammel, who was excavating land for the Sharonville Industrial Park and discovered its rich contents. Since natural exposure to Cincinnati’s fossils was better before urbanization, reforestation, and construction of dams along the Ohio River and its tributaries, exposure today is usually limited to road building sites and developments like that planned by Trammel.

Once news of Trammel’s find was out, scholars like David Meyer, professor of geology, began taking students there, so Meyer was
excited when Trammel decided to donate the last ten acres of the building site to Sharonville rather than develop it for business.

At that point Meyer offered to assist in development of a concept for a park on the site. He contacted Virginia Russell, associate professor and landscape architect in DAAP, to collaborate on a design. She devoted Site Systems, a spring quarter class, to the task, and 14 student design projects were subsequently presented to Sharonville’s mayor and city council. These set the stage for architect Ted Johansen’s final design.

Meyer’s work continued as he and his wife created signs for the park. In the interpretive section the signs explain the purpose of the park, the geological story of the site, the four geological formations exposed there, and the characteristics of the fossils. Meyer notes, “At Trammel we have four of the best Cincinnatian formations exposed; the Fairview formation, Miamitown shale, Bellevue limestone, and the Corryville formation. The strata were all named for sites within the inner city that are now only poorly exposed.”

What makes the park unique is not only the generosity of Trammel and the dedication of volunteers like McMicken’s Meyer but also the willingness of the city of Sharonville to allow visitors a special privilege. Guests may collect surface level fossils from the site so long as no digging is involved. The city has also agreed to allow the site to be periodically renewed by having the surface scraped.

Meyer is currently helping to develop in-place displays by exposing particularly interesting fossil-rich layers and protecting them under covered frames. Visitors can arrange to have the covers opened to allow close examination of the layers, but no digging is allowed.

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