Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hire a Fossil Collecting Guide?

I've always collected fossils on my own, for years, beginning with shark tooth trips with my Parents, sitting on the beach digging holes in the sand, sifting with our fingers, and finding shark teeth.  We found jars of them.  Later in life, I sought out better specimens and explored various sites in my region.  I expanded my collecting to the inland formations, searching the Devonian fossil beds for older material.  I did this on my own, with my daughter, and a few friends along the way.  I never imagined going with a guide to fossil collect...until recently.

Cathy Young, of Mid-Atlantic Fossil and Nature Adventures, contacted me via a fossiling friend, to help on one of her trips, using my boat to transport kids that were attending her paleontology camp to various local spots only reachable by boat, and some on private property where access is extremely limited except by her and her experts, who have permission on those sites.  I agreed to help and was very curious about her program.

As it turns out, looking back on my experience, Cathy, her experts, the volunteers helping as boaters and guides, really impressed me, not only on their knowledge, but how great they were with the campers attending her paleontology camp.  My bonus was to see a couple sites that I've never been to.  I didn't have much time to collect, as I had to be ready to move when the experts were ready to move.  That included gathering the campers assigned to my boat and keeping track of them so we could move quickly and safely.
Cathy Young is so nice and knowledgeable, and it was my honor to help her service out during the paleontology camp.  Cathy is the proprietor of the Mid-Atlantic Fossil and Nature Adventures.
The 2015 Paleontology Camp Experts:
In addition to Cathy, who is an expert in her own right, the experts, some world renowned, participate in each of Cathy's trips or activities, that occur from New York South to Alabama, ranging from fossil and mineral collecting expeditions to nature trips.  The experts for each trip specialize in the subject matter and location for each trip.

The 2015 paleontology camp had two experts.  I missed the first night's presentation by world renowned Dr. Bretton W. Kent, the author of one of my most prized books, Fossil Sharks of the Chesapeake Bay Region, that is so helpful for identification purposes.  I couldn't get off work earlier enough to make the trek down to where we were staying.  I did, however, get to meet him at breakfast the next morning, and that was a treat in itself.  Other than some small talk, I pretty much found myself tongue tied!

The other expert at the camp was Dr. Lauck "Buck" Ward, retired Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH), and is currently a Curator Emeritis at VMNH.  I was fascinated by everything that he said, because there were teaching moments for all of us, the volunteers and the campers.  He had a way with the campers too, seemingly grumpy at first, but they all loved him, and I believe the feeling was mutual for him as well.  I really enjoyed talking with him as he answered my endless questions.
Dr. Lauck "Buck" Ward presenting his fossils to the campers.  He had a way with the campers that grabbed their attention, taught them and made it fun for them.
Dr. Ward provided enthusiastic discussion on the geology, formations, and fossils of each site that we visited as the campers collected fossils of all kinds, including fossilized shells, shark teeth and other vertebrate fossils.
Dr. Ward in action teaching both campers and volunteers at one of the collecting sites.
Campers and volunteers having a great time collecting fossils at one of the sites.

Some of the campers and a volunteer searching for fossils along the beach of one of the sites.
Cathy's paleontology camp included all kinds of activities after collecting hours, most were organized, others just happened.  Meals were entertaining, and each evening there was a presentation about fossils and geology for the campers, and even a session about how to construct a necklace for shark teeth found during the trip!
One of the unplanned activities during free time between volunteers and campers was a water balloon fight.  At first, there seemed to be distinct teams, but eventually it was a free for all.  At any rate, I avoided getting wet, but many became drenched.
I was very impressed with the program itinerary.  It was very organized and well planned.  Everyone seemed to find their share of fossils and had a great time, campers and volunteers alike.  If the other trips are as well planned and organized as the paleontology camp, and in my mind there is no doubt of that, then you may have a great time attending one of Cathy's trips.  I'd say the trips are worth every penny spent.  You'll get to meet and collect with experts to some places that are off limits to most people, and others where access is limited.

So, would I hire a guide?  I'd say yes, and in this case, you'd get your money's worth.  I plan on attending trips as a customer in the future along with my daughter.

For more information, you can visit the website  Mid-Atlantic Fossil and Nature Adventures, or email Cathy Young at  You have a chance to find some great fossils and learn from the experts at the same time.  More importantly, you'll have fun.

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