Unearthing prehistoric prizes at Sylvania's Fossil Park
Lake Erie, in its current form, is only about 4000 years old. While the lake has been doing its level best to grow this year -- much to the chagrin of lakeshore residents -- it was nothing like the massive sea covering northwest Ohio 350 million years ago.
Sylvania's Fossil Park offers a trip back to that Devonian era, well before the age of the dinosaurs.
Part of the Olander Park system, Fossil Park is open every day to the public for free -- complete with picnic tables, restrooms and a well-stocked pit to keep young and old occupied for hours.
The fossils come from the Hanson Aggregates quarry a mile south of the park, and because the shale is soft enough to break with your bare hands, you don't really need to bring any tools with you, aside from maybe an egg carton to take your treasures home.
Executive director Erika Buri suggests you leave your metal tools at home, though "you can bring toothbrushes or brushes to brush the dirt off. The fossils you'll find are usually about the size of a quarter, so not really huge."
With plenty of summer heat left in the tank, it's important to note that the fossil pit has no trees or shade, so water and sunscreen are a must. As you can imagine, though, that does very little to slow down young explorers.
Emily Cousino is one parent who's very happy with what the park offers.
"This is one of our favorite places -- easy day trip. Layla wants to be an archaeologist or scientist someday, and Vivian is really into dinosaurs and fossils. We'll spend the day here and get really, really muddy, and they've found some cool things already today."
Plenty of local school groups and day camps have made the trek out here. On the day we visited, one child's family had driven all the way from Akron to search for prehistoric prizes.
Another child, Lillian Bower, could tell you all their scientific names by heart, casually stating that she'd already found "a trilobite and larval brachiopods."
Buri says her greatest satisfaction in running Fossil Park is seeing the proverbial "light bulb" turn on in children's heads.
"It's not super-hard to find things, but there is a little bit of searching involved. It's just fun having the kids be like 'Hey, is this a fossil?' and being able to help them explore."
The 5-acre park is ADA accessible, and open every day this summer until 9pm.