, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 241–256 | Cite as

Lessons from US Fossil Parks for Effective Informal Science Education

  • Renee M. Clary
  • James H. Wandersee
Original Article


US fossil parks are unique venues that bridge informal field collecting sites and protected national parks that prohibit any type of specimen acquisition. Typically, fossil parks provide collecting opportunities for visitors for a nominal fee, allowing them to retain a small number of fossils. Often administered by a museum or community, fossil parks promote sustainable development of geotourism, while providing visitors with a tangible reminder of their excursion into another geological time and paleoenvironment. Our in-depth research and analysis of US fossil park sites resulted in the identification of the venues and site characteristics that optimized visitors’ understanding of geological time, biodiversity, and evolution, in addition to providing a fun collecting excursion. Although we do not advocate that national parks and protected sites allow visitors to collect mementoes of their visit, we propose that our fossil park research can provide guidelines for effective interpretation and display of the geological features of these protected sites. While some fossil parks promoted appreciation of a geological site or past environment, not all of them facilitated visitor understanding. Effective interpretation can promote meaningful learning for visitors, leading to increased geological understanding and awareness of the site’s importance, and therefore, an acceptance of the need to preserve it.


Fossil parks Informal education Geoscience education Geological interpretation Public interpretation 



We appreciate the opportunities to share the educational implications of our fossil park research with an international audience, through both the Geoheritage symposium at the 34th International Geological Congress and the dissemination of our research results through Geoheritage. Professors Bernie Joyce and José Brilha deserve special recognition for organizing geoheritage efforts and sustaining international interest in protecting those sites of geological importance for the future.


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Copyright information

© The European Association for Conservation of the Geological Heritage 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeosciencesMississippi State UniversityMississippi StateUSA
  2. 2.Louisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA

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