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Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument Expansion

Fifty years ago, the law establishing the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument was signed. Thanks to the efforts of the group “Defenders of Florissant” led by Dr. Betty Willard and Dr. Estella Leopold, the park was created to preserve one of the most diverse fossil deposits in the world. This visionary group recognized the unique characteristics of the area and fought for its permanent protection.

While modern history of the area spans over 150 years, what makes this place especially unique is the geological and paleontological activity that occurred here 34-36 million years ago. During the late Eocene Epoch, the land was home to subtropical and temperate plants, wet meadows, and shallow Lake Florissant. In fact, the entire area would have looked similar to the coastal redwood forests of California and Oregon. During this time, the Thirtynine Mile volcanic range, especially Guffey Volcano, was quite active. The volcano erupted numerous times, expelling ash and lahar (mud) down the valley and into the lake. Plants that were unfortunate enough to be in the path of these flows were fossilized in the shale layers that formed at the bottom of the lake. During one especially large lahar flow, with speeds topping 120 mph, the massive tree trunks were completely submerged under sixteen feet of mud. This debris protected the trees, petrifying the stumps, while unburied limbs and tree tops fell away and decomposed.

Fortunately for us, a few of the petrified tree trunks and numerous vertebrate and other plant fossils can still be found at the Monument. Scientists are still discovering new fossil species at the park, and it remains a veritable wonderland for paleontologists.

Palmer is honored to participate in an expansion effort at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. A conservation-minded private property owner has offered to donate a 280-acre parcel to the park. However, due to the language authorizing the park’s formation, congressional action was necessary to include this parcel within the park’s boundary. After four years of hard work, the bill allowing for this additional acreage was signed into law on March 12, 2019. This parcel, located on the park’s western border, will provide critical access for wildland fire protection work and will buffer the more sensitive areas of the park. Additionally, incorporation of this parcel will increase the volume and diversity of wildlife habitats and may allow for longer hiking trails through the park.

We are fortunate not only for the original “Defenders of Florissant,” but for the great partners who defend the park to this day. This work would not be possible without our generous land donor or Michelle Wheatley, the park’s former superintendent, who worked hard to ensure the success of this donation to the park. For more information on the planned activities to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the parks formation, please visit www.nps.gov/flfo.

Mark your calendars for the park’s free admission days throughout the year: August 25, September 28, and November 11.