Saturday, July 07, 2001

Fossil park park invites visitors

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SHARONVILLE — When R.L. Trammel's 10-acre fossil park becomes an official Sharonville facility, it will be that rarest of public natural wonders. Visitors will be invited to take home what they find.

R.L. Trammel at his fossil park.
(Yuli Wu photo)
| ZOOM |
        The more visitors, the more fossils collected, the happier Mr. Trammel will be.

        Budget constraints mean it could be a year or two before Sharonville dedicates the park and names it for Mr. Trammel. Meanwhile, collectors need not wait.

        “Here, take this,” the 75-year-old developer said, picking up a small clam fossil imbedded in shale. “They're everywhere.”

        Then, a few yards up the bare slope, he indicated a larger fossil-covered limestone rock with the toe of his boot. “That will be a beauty when it's polished.”

        For about 20 years, Mr. Trammel has been clearing sites for his industrial development on what was a 100-acre farm off Hauck Road.

        When earth-moving equipment strips away soil or claws down hillside stone for fill, it uncovers marine fossils deposited about 440 million years ago during th Ordovician Period.

        Word gets around and collectors come.

        “This is what we rely on to get a look at the bedrock because that's where the fossils are,” said David L. Meyer, a University of Cincinnati professor of geology. “He's continued to excavate parts of it and that freshens it up. He's made this happen.”

        Outdoor education specialist Carolyn Cook has been taking youngsters to the limestone and shale hillside longer than Mr. Trammel has owned it. “They love it,” she said. “Everything they find, they get to keep.”

        She runs the Princeton school district's outdoor education center on 65 wooded acres abutting Mr. Trammel's property. Students from kindergarten through sixth grade initially found fossils in rock that broke loose as rain and snow eroded the hillside.

        Now that he's clearing the land, it's even easier.

        Dr. Meyer agreed with Mr. Trammel's assertion that his is “one of the best fossil deposits east of the Mississippi and the only one that has been set aside for collectors.”

        Unlike many developers, he has never tried to keep collectors away; just stay away from his equipment.

        Anyone can start collecting, and such groups as the UC-affiliated Dry Dredgers amateur geologists provide beginners with valuable information and companionship.

        Dr. Meyer and colleagues from as far as upstate New York bring busloads of students to the rock face on the Tramway Drive cul-de-sac; it's fruitful and safer than more common hillside cuts for highways.

        “I've seen 150 kids on the hillside at one time,” Mr. Trammel said. That and tax benefits suggested a park instead of selling those acres.

        Mayor Virgil Lovitt liked the idea and invited council members to the proposed fossil park. “They went wild about it,” Mr. Trammel recalled.

        Mayor Lovitt's “guesstimate” is that it will cost Sharonville $300,000 to complete the park.

        Using city employees and equipment will help hold down costs, as has Mr. Trammel's site preparation.

        More free help came from advanced students in landscape architect Virginia Russell's studio class at University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning. They adopted Trammel Park as a community service project last year.

        Christine Thompson, assistant to the mayor, drew on their ideas for a preliminary plan that includes:

        • On the level lower 4 acres, a parking lot, a patio with handicap access to the fossils, and multipurpose building big enough for visiting college students to sleep over.

        • The rock face.

        • A walkway along the Trammels' abandoned dirt bike trail up the hill and through untouched woodlands.

        However long it takes to fund and finish the work, Mr. Lovitt said the recreation department will begin “fossil finders” classes for youngsters 6-12 in September,. Students need not be Sharonville residents.

        “This site is about the hillside,” the mayor said. “We can interpret the geology without waiting.”


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