Dall DeWeese, a hunter-naturalist, works on a partial diplodocus longus skeleton in Garden Park Fossil Area in 1902.
Thanks to the recent expansion of its National Natural Landmark boundary, the BLM’s Garden Park Fossil Area, north of Cañon City, Colorado, is getting supersized recognition. The internationally renowned area boasts rich deposits of late Jurassic-period fossils. In the 1880s, fifteen species of dinosaurs, nine of which were new to the field of paleontology, were recovered from the area, making it one of the oldest and richest fossil sites in the country.
But what’s so important about the NNL designation?
"Have you ever heard of the Bone Wars or perhaps the rival paleontologists O.C. Marsh and E.D. Cope, who raced across America to discover fossils in the late 19th century?" explains BLM geologist, Melissa Smeins. "If you have, then you know how important this area is. A great deal of what we know about modern paleontology happened in Garden Park, but outside of the current NNL boundary."
The NNL program, administered by the National Park Service, strives to preserve sites that illustrate the geological and ecological history of the United States, and to strengthen the public’s appreciation of America’s Natural Heritage. The designation is not a land withdrawal, does not change the ownership of the area and does not dictate activity. It is a voluntary program that offers assistance to land managers protecting natural heritage resources.
The GPFA was originally designated by the Secretary of the Interior in 1973, as part of a greater national subset of Mesozoic Vertebrate Paleontological sites (that means fish, crocodile, turtle, and mammal fossils dating back 252 to 66 million years ago have been unearthed here). However, only 40 acres of the GPFA were included – and none of the historically significant dinosaur quarries that earned the area its designation. So in 2012, the BLM set out to expand the NNL boundary. The Royal Gorge Field Office completed an environmental assessment of the proposed expansion and forwarded its recommendation to the NPS who, in turn, completed their own investigation.
This is the Marsh-Felch Quarry, today, in the Garden Park Fossil Area. From 1881 to 1892, paleontologist M.P. Felch excavated fossils for O.C. Marsh and sent them by train to Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut.
After a year-long analysis and public involvement processes by both agencies, the long-awaited boundary expansion came to fruition.
On April 2, 2013, then Secretary Ken Salazar approved the BLM and NPS proposals, thus supersizing the NNL designation by nearly 80 times its original size.
"We were eager for the Secretary to approve adding any acreage to the original NNL designation," says Smeins. "We dreamed big though – proposing 3,170 more acres – and when the Secretary and the public agreed with the entirety of our proposal, we were ecstatic."
With the Secretary’s approval, the NNL now includes more than 3,200 acres. It’s truly something to celebrate, and the RGFO intends to make an official ceremony of the designation on Oct. 16 – National Fossil Day.
"There’s no more fitting day to celebrate the new NNL boundary," says Smeins.
For more information about the BLM’s Garden Park Fossil Area, check out the website: www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/rgfo/paleontology/canon_city_basin/garden_park_fossil.html
The RGFO also hosts a “Hands On the Land” program devoted to GPFA and its history at: www.handsontheland.org/garden-park
-By: Denise Adamic, BLM Front Range District Public Affairs Specialist