July 12, 2024
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Exploring Vermont’s Ancient Fossil Reef at Isle La Motte

Goodsell Ridge

The Goodsell Ridge Preserve is on Isle La Motte, Vermont. | Photo by: Pamela Hunt

Nestled in the serene landscapes of Vermont's Champlain Islands, lies an unexpected treasure trove for history buffs and nature enthusiasts alike – an ancient fossil ridge that tells tales from nearly half a billion years ago. Imagine wandering through a place where the very ground beneath your feet holds remnants of creatures that lived long before the dinosaurs.

Intrigued? Let's delve into the fascinating world of the Isle La Motte fossil reef, a hidden gem that promises to captivate your imagination and transport you back to a time when Vermont was submerged under primordial seas.

Vermont – The Home of an Extraordinary Geological Treasure?

Vermont, typically known for its picturesque landscapes, also harbors an extraordinary geological treasure: fossils nearly half a billion years old. Among these ancient remnants is a fascinating fossilized cephalopod, an early ancestor of the modern Nautilus and octopus. This ancient creature, distinguished by its chambered shell and likely tentacles, roamed the seas approximately 480 million years ago, predating the first dinosaurs by over 250 million years.

Photo courtesy of ilmpt.org

World's Oldest Fossilized Reefs in Vermont's Champlain Islands

Nestled in Isle La Motte, the Goodsell Ridge Preserve is a site of significant paleontological interest. This preserve hosts one of the world's oldest fossilized reefs, teeming with diverse species. Central to this ancient ecosystem were stromatoporoids, spongy reef-building organisms, whose intricate structures are beautifully preserved in the quarried rock of the area.

In addition to stromatoporoids, the reef reveals fossils of gastropods, ancient snail-like creatures. These remnants, scattered throughout the site, offer a tangible connection to a time almost unimaginable in its antiquity. Although fossils are not abundant everywhere within the preserve, diligent searching can uncover numerous specimens, each telling a story of life from an era long past.

Stone Used for Construction of Notable Building in New York and Washington

The historical significance of the site extends beyond its paleontological wonders. The stone quarried from Isle La Motte has been used in constructing iconic structures such as the Brooklyn Bridge and notable buildings in New York and Washington. The quarrying activity has revealed different geological layers of the reef, with the oldest sediments lying beneath newer formations, each layer showcasing varying levels of fossil diversity.

Geologists have determined that these layers are tilted, exposing older and younger strata at different locations. The oldest layers, rich in stromatoporoids, are less diverse in fossils compared to the more recent layers found in the Goodsell Ridge Preserve.

Get out and Explore Isle La Motte's Ancient Fossil Reef

Isle La Motte and its ancient fossil reef provide a unique glimpse into Earth's distant past. This remarkable site invites exploration and offers an educational experience for those interested in geology and the history of life on our planet. Visitors to Isle La Motte can marvel at the preserved remnants of a time when Vermont was submerged under ancient seas, teeming with life forms that would shape the course of evolution.

The Chazy Fossil Reef, named after the nearby town of Chazy in New York, extends to include a quarry located in Chazy, Clinton County, New York, which is also part of this ancient reef system.

Chazy Reef seen at Isle La Motte, VT

Driving Directions to the Goodsell Ridge Preserve

Get out and explore this beautiful region of Vermont. From Burlington, take Interstate 89 to Exit 17. Take Route 2W through the islands. Just after crossing the bridge between North Hero and Alburgh, look for Route 129. Continue on 129 over the bridge to Isle La Motte.

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