George Cummins , crops field specialist
and Brenda Schmitt, Floyd County Extension Education Director
The Rockford Brick and Tile Co. (RBTC) operated a manufacturing site near Rockford from 1910 to 1977. The clay pits used for brick and tile manufacture were formed as an ancient seabed and are a premier site for Devonian era (400 million-year old) fossils. The site overlooks the Winnebago River Valley and is surrounded by steep ground that contained pockets of native prairie plants and rare species like the creeping juniper.
In the late 1980's, the dumpsite used by White Farm Equipment Company for their foundry waste was added to the top ten list of Superfund Cleanup sites. The Rockford clay pits were one of three potential sites considered as an alternative for disposal of these hazardous materials. Using REAP funds, the Floyd County Conservation Board purchased the 167 acre RBTC site to preserve it's unique qualities.
In 1991, Mary Foley, ISU Extension CRD Specialist, and George Cummins, Floyd County Agriculturist/Director, coordinated a Leadership Development Workshop Series in Rockford . Three workshop participants (Don Nelson, Roger Fullerton and Larry Hickok) with the assistance of Wayne Meyer, the county conservationist, developed a comprehensive master plan for a Fossil and Prairie Park . The plan included: construction of a multipurpose educational center; trails with handicap access, wetlands, camping and picnic facilities; establishment of a wetlands and water fowl observation facility; and additional land acquisition along the Winnebago River corridor which could be used for live animal exhibits. The estimated cost of the education center alone was $500,000. A question asked by one of the project evaluators was,” Where are you going to get half a million dollars in Rockford ?” The Leadership Development Workshops introduced a number of organizational development and networking skills and useful contacts for implementing initial action plans.
A Fossil and Prairie Center Foundation was formed. Land acquisitions to date have expanded the park from the original 167 acres to 402 acres. Sixty acres of native prairie have been established. Handicapped – accessible trails have been built. A wetland and waterfowl observation blind have been constructed. The 7000 sq. ft. education center was opened in April, 2001 and includes an exhibit hall, a large meeting room, a resource library, offices, a scientific lab and a kitchenette. Exhibits in the education center include a Native Prairie Exhibit. a fossil exhibit, a saltwater aquarium with living corals and a new exhibit on Ag Drainage – From Wetland to Farmland. The park has hosted several workshops. School groups and international visitors have been attracted to the Fossil and Prairie Park .
Page last updated:
July 10, 2006
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