By LOIS KINDLE
The prehistoric skulls, teeth and bones, featured in the Paleo Preserve Fossil Museum at Camp Bayou, reveal South Shore’s rich and fascinating history.
They are “travelers in time,” dating back roughly 1.5 to 1 million years ago, when long-extinct saber tooth cats, mastodons, giant sloths and other Pleistocene Period creatures roamed Ruskin and areas surrounding it. The fossils were uncovered by a drag line during a routine mining operation in July 1983 in Leisey Shell Pit 1A off Gulf City Road in southern Hillsborough County.
Local paleontologist Frank Garcia received permission from owner Bud Leisey to excavate the fossils with a team of volunteers from the Tampa Bay Mineral and Science Club.
“Mining was actually stopped for a year in the area where the fossils were found so University of Florida professors could set up grids for proper excavation,” said Patty Moore, Paleo Preserve Fossil Museum board member and lead instructor.
Garcia founded and incorporated the Paleontological Education Preserve, more commonly known as the Paleo Preserve Fossil Museum, in 1993. It’s located at 4140 24th Street SE, Ruskin, inside the Camp Bayou Outdoor Learning Center at the Camp Bayou Nature Preserve. Its mission is to keep the dig’s history alive and educate the public – especially children – about the area’s amazing fossil record.
The 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization features all kinds of actual fossils, photographs and newspaper articles from the Leisey Shell Pit excavation. The fossil museum is comprised of two buildings, one exhibiting finds from the excavation and the other featuring fossils and shells from all over the world. Some date back to the age of dinosaurs.
“The fossil museum is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and other times by appointment for school groups,” Moore said. “We encourage educators and home-schoolers to come on field trips. It’s a wonderful learning opportunity.”
Admission is free to the public on Saturdays.
“Children are invited to have an on-site, hands-on experience digging for fossils in the museum’s seeded sand “pit” and take home whatever they find,” Moore said. “The cost is $5 per child.”
There is also a small fossil and mineral shop inside one of the museum buildings.
Arrangements can be made on occasion for an educator to come to a school or other requested location to present a talk and bring along a “mobile museum” of fossils.
If a child is having a birthday, the child’s parents can set up a Paleo Party in the Camp Bayou pavilion, which includes an age-appropriate presentation, tour of the museum and fossil dig. The child gets a special gift, and all of the children in attendance can keep the fossils they find.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or visit www.paleopreserve.com for pricing of special adventures, volunteering and additional information on the fossil museum.
A six-member board of directors oversees operation of the Paleo Preserve Fossil Museum: Fred Hendershot, Leigh Gledhill, Barbara Fite, Patricia Moore, Barry O’Shaughnessy and Lorraine O’Shaughnessy.
The Paleo Preserve Fossil Museum depends on public support to thrive. Donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 1075, Ruskin, FL 33575.