CARS HOMES JOBS

Fossil garden may reopen

Owner says site was left a mess

Saturday, June 21, 2008
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The closed entrance to the Petrified Gardens is shown Friday.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
The closed entrance to the Petrified Gardens is shown Friday.

— The Petrified Sea Gardens, the small park with world-famous fossils that has been closed for more than a year, has been cleaned up and may reopen this summer.

“We know we want to do something with it,” said William Beers, president of Pallette Stone Corp.

Both Pallette Stone in Saratoga Springs and the approximately three-acre Petrified Sea Gardens are owned by D.A. Collins Companies of Mechanicville.

“It’s a real asset to the community,” Beers said on Friday. “We are getting back involved with it.”

The gardens, which feature nearly an acre of fossilized aquatic plants 500 million years old, are located three miles from downtown Saratoga Springs on Petrified Sea Gardens Road off of Route 29.

Beers said the Friends of Petrified Sea Gardens, the nonprofit group that operated the park for a decade, left the site “a real mess” at the end of the 2006 season.

“There was three feet of trash in one house,” Beers said. He said in addition to the trash, a wind storm had dropped a large tree on one of the two small buildings on the property.

When the Friends group operated the site, a gift shop was located in the larger of the two buildings.

Three weeks ago, both of the buildings were demolished after asbestos was removed from one of the buildings. All of the debris has been removed. Brush was also cut along the trails that had become overgrown.

Richard Lindemann, chairman of Skidmore College’s geosciences department, said he toured the site Friday with David Collins and other D.A. Collins representatives.

“What they want to do is very positive,” Lindemann said.

He said at this point the company is trying to generate ideas on how to prepare the site for public viewing.

“Everything at this point is just in the idea stage,” Lindemann said. “But it is extremely positive.”

Lindemann has written scholarly papers about the fossils, which are from large aquatic plants that once grew along a reef in a shallow Precambrian sea around 515 million years ago.

Paleontologists from around the world have come to study the Cryptozoon stromatolite fossils, which are sometimes called “sea cabbages” because they resemble a large head of cabbage in both vertical and horizontal sections.

The site was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1967 and a national Historic Landmark in 1999.

Lindemann said he was not representing Skidmore during his tour on Friday. He said that as a paleontologist, he wanted to see what had become of the site since 2006, when it closed at the end of the season.

Lindemann often brings his students to a smaller, state-owned fossil site called Lester Park in Greenfield for field study projects.

Beers said D.A. Collins is planning to talk to Skidmore College officials as well as to Joseph Dalton, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, about ideas to restore and reopen the Petrified Sea Gardens.

“Hopefully we can get something going this summer,” Beers said.

Some early ideas are putting a trailer at the site or building a small structure there that would be staffed by high school or college students so the public could visit the site and see the famous fossils.

Beers said if a small admission fee was charged, the money would probably be donated to a charity in the area.

“We are really not sure,” Beers said about what exactly will happen at the site this summer.

What he is sure about is that the company eventually wants to make the site available for school groups and hikers to visit and enjoy.

The site, which was once owned by the Ritchie family, has been open to the public on and off since 1933. Lindemann said the earliest reference to the limestone formation and fossils was in 1825 by Dr. John H. Steele. He described the fossils as “petrified mustard seed” in a paper he wrote.

 
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