Recreation & Destinations

Two Decades of PaleoFest and No Stopping Now

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Burpee Museum’s annual tribute to all things paleontology returns this winter with plenty of traditions and a few surprises, too. Here’s a sneak peak at what’s coming up.

Many fossils will be on display during the 22nd annual PaleoFest this year, taking place from March 6-8. Stations will be set up during the festival, where children can learn more about the latest in paleontology from experts. (Burpee Museum photos)

Many fossils will be on display during the 22nd annual PaleoFest this year, taking place from March 6-8. Stations will be set up during the festival, where children can learn more about the latest in paleontology from experts. (Burpee Museum photos)

Now in its 22nd year of hosting PaleoFest, the Burpee Museum of Natural History promises this year’s fossil-centric event from March 6-8 will be even bigger than previous years and provide a fun and educational experience for both adults and children.

“It’s a celebration of all things prehistoric,” says Anne Weerda, executive director of the Burpee Museum at 737 N. Main Street, Rockford. “We bring in speakers from around the world to come in and talk about their research. These speakers are internationally-known scientists who are currently active in the field of paleontology. We have speakers who are going to be talking about dinosaurs, and also some who are going to be talking about reptiles of the sea. It’s not just dinosaurs.”

For example, one speaker will talk about amber, or fossilized resin from ancient forests, says Weerda.

“We will have a station where you can see some of the speaker’s research and learn about why things get trapped in amber, and how they get fossilized, and how research is done on amber,” Weerda explains.

The entire museum becomes transformed during the weekend of PaleoFest. Stations are set up throughout the museum for both children and adults, making the event family-oriented. Each of the stations reflect different types of research currently occurring in paleontology.

The event also offers family-friendly lectures and workshops where scientists discuss their research in a more consumable way for children, Weerda says. Last year, one speaker spoke on Triceratops, and how they can tell how old the Triceratops is just from inspecting its bones. Another interesting and relatively new workshop revolves around paleo art.

“It’s kind of a crazy, cool field because they’re looking at recreating a world we’ve never seen,” Weerda explains. “They’re using clones and fossils and information we have about what plants were like, and trying to recreate these scenes of what the prehistoric world might have looked like.”

One session available involves learning how a paleo artist creates their art. There, you’ll get a chance to try your hand at some of the techniques to create a “Jurassic World.” The paleo art was new last year, and a huge success.

“The thing about paleontology is it’s a hook,” explains Weerda. Though a child may not become a paleontologist when they grow up, they may become an engineer or a doctor. The museum’s goal is to get them excited about science while also getting them excited about the fact that there are many unanswered questions out there.

“We’re working hard as a community to come up with answers,” says Weerda. “This is a great way to get kids involved in the process of scientific thinking.”

Friday, March 6 is the student symposium. A Burpee Museum members-only reception will be held March 6 at 6 p.m., with light hors d’oeuvres and refreshments.

A keynote presentation will take place at 7 p.m. on Saturday, and March 7 and 8 are the official festival days. For more information, visit burpee.org/paleofest2019main.

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