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Kamloops fossil site attracts worldwide audience

McAbee Fossil Beds was closed to the public for seven years but welcomed guests again over the summer.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED - Bonaparte Indian Band
September 09, 2019 - 6:00 AM

KAMLOOPS - The McAbee Fossil Beds opened this summer for the first time in seven years and people dig it.

Not literally, unfortunately, though that may change when it opens again next season.

“Amazingly enough, we had over 1,200 people visit the site this summer. We are blown away,” Debra Arnott, manager of Community Futures Sun Country, says. They had only expected 800 visitors.

The fossil bed was formed when a lake drained nearly 50 million years ago and is now home to one of the most diverse arrays of fossils in the province, including plants, insects, and fish. It is also the home to many legends and stories of the Bonaparte Indian Band. Two members of the band worked at the site throughout the summer, welcoming guests, telling their historic legends and beliefs, and teaching about the fossils in the area.

Gail Pierro worked at the site throughout the summer and says although she was unsure what to expect at first, the work quickly became a source of joy.

“I was kind of nervous because I really didn't know what to expect out of the whole thing, but as the days went on it got easier to be there,” Pierro says. “I thought this was pretty good for me because it gets me out of my house and I was meeting different people every day...sharing my knowledge with all the people, that was even greater.”

Pierro says she would tell people the stories of the land, including her own family's. She says her grandparents lived on the same land and explained to visitors from around the world why she continued to love living in the area.

“I really enjoyed it, it was great fun meeting people from all over the place,” Pierro says, noting that she kept a list of where the visitors were from. “Denmark, Holland, Argentina, Switzerland, Mexico...lots of places.”

Samples of fossils were laid out for guests to study.
Samples of fossils were laid out for guests to study.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED - Bonaparte Indian Band

The site is now closed for the winter, but Arnott says they plan to reopen next year and use the feedback collected from visitors surveys to enhance the experience.  She says many of the visitors suggested improved signage to the location, better parking lots, and more exploration opportunities.

“People were hoping that they could go onto the site and dig for fossils and experience that, so I had a chat with the Heritage Branch so they're going to look into that and see if there is any way we could do that,” Arnott says. “Another thing we heard is that they would like more interpretation trails, so they could go on their own and maybe have plaques everywhere explaining certain areas, so that's also something that we're going to be talking about.”

The funding for keeping the site open and staffed throughout the summer came from a grant from Heritage Canada. Arnott says it’s unclear if they’ll receive similar funding for staffing next year, but is hopeful she’ll be able to find a solution if need be.

“I would definitely, as the manager with Community Futures, be tapping into my networks, because we are on a roll here,” Arnott says. “I’ll be looking out there for partnerships to help us to ensure we do have funding to carry on.”

Visitors could hike up form the road and discover an array of fossils along the way,
Visitors could hike up form the road and discover an array of fossils along the way,
Image Credit: SUBMITTED- Bonaparte Indian Band

Arnott says a meeting held in October will determine what kind of preparations will be made for next summer. Arnott notes how the site got global attention and hopes to keep the fossil site open to the public for years to come.

“We even actually had somebody from Denmark that read about this, and they knew that they were coming to Canada, so they made it a point of coming to the McAbee fossil sites,” Arnott says. “Overall, the response has been incredible. We had people indicate that yes, definitely they will be back to the site again.”

The McAbee fossil site is now closed for the winter. In the summer months, you can access the site near Cache Creek by driving about 45 minutes west of Kamloops on Highway 1, just past Juniper Beach Provincial Park.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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