During the last century, the region has lured scientists from all over the world to indulge in these ancient findings. Bringing these resources to the attention of a much wider audience and gently stimulating a struggling rural economy created an idea. It has been six years since the concept arose locally to actively promote the enhancement, preservation, development and interpretation of the region’s fossil and geologic resources as a key economic development strategy. The strategy has its origins in the most likely place, the small, aptly-named community of Fossil, better-known as the hub of the region. Here one can dig fossils at the public digging area behind the high school. The activities and education simply radiate from there.
In 2001, the Paleo Project was awarded the coveted Oregon Sustainability Award by Governor John Kitzhaber. It was named the first Oregon Solutions Project in Oregon, followed by 14 other initial projects. The Paleo Board received its non-profit status after about a year of meetings with an informal advisory group. The loose title, “Paleo Project” acts as an umbrella which encompasses non-profit board activities, program and facility development and the enhancement of the region’s natural resources.
Not only is it important to educate but an archaeological resource as grand as the John Day Fossil Beds contains a potential economic gold mine. With continued promotion and as understanding of the resources increases, so would public interest, hence a greater number of visitors, benefiting the local and regional business sector. A new tourism quote might be: “World-class fossils just three hours from Portland!”
The interest in the project could easily improve the depreciated economy due to the so-called bust of the timber industry of recent years. The actual scope of the project will be explained in greater depth in other sections of the website. However, it is important to discuss the basic principles of the region and what makes it so intriguing.
Millions of years ago, present day eastern Oregon was a different place: sage and juniper-covered hills seen today were buried under shallow seas. The land was tropical and sub-tropical, with savannah grasslands and eventually woodlands. Fossilized evidence of cataclysmic events that pulverized the earth are clearly visible in layered rock formations that can be found in an area the size of New England. The land was teeming with prehistoric creatures as well - thunder beasts, oreondonts, saber-toothed tigers and great mammoths lurked in the forests and marshes. Their remnants and the plants they foraged lie virtually exposed in eroded rock formations and river banks today. Colorfully painted hills, statue-like columns of basalt and deep gorges invite scientists of all levels to explore…better-known as fossil hounds. The Paleo Project was the result of such findings and more information can be found here.