Digging dinosaurs

Ever hear of an edmontosaurus?

It’s not one of your better known dinosaurs, though visitors to the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan can currently see bones of this giant duck-billed creature from the late Cretaceous period. Joseph Kchodl, better known by his self-appointed handle of Paleo Joe, has returned to the museum with a new dinosaur exhibit that opened last week and runs through July 23.

“It includes a dinosaur prep lab and all the materials used to clean bones,” Paleo Joe said. “I will be doing cleaning periodically throughout the summer where kids and other visitors can talk to me. They can find out what kinds of tools are used and ask any questions they like.”

Paleo Joe spends a fair amount of time in Northeast Michigan leading fossil digs and doing in-school paleontology-related program for students. He is scheduled to conduct bone cleaning demonstrations on May 3, June 22 and July 20 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the museum.

Additionally, he will provide a guided tour of Alpena’s best-known fossil spots on July 13. The tour leaves at 9:30 a.m. from the museum and ends around 4 p.m., making stops at Burkholder Drive, Rockport State Recreation Area and Lafarge quarries.

“I come up to Alpena 10 to 15 times a year,” said the Midland resident, who several years ago had a Besser Museum exhibit that focused on his fossil collection. “People joke that I should get a house or an apartment here. I’ve been leading people on digs around Alpena since 1993.”

Museum Director Chris Witulski was instrumental in bringing the Lafarge Fossil Park to the museum grounds, so having Paleo Joe’s exhibit and related special programs dovetails with her interest in getting visitors excited about fossil formations and the geology of the area.

“Paleo Joe’s exhibit is a dinosaur exhibit,” she said. “The thing that’s important to realize about him is that he’s an educator. He’s inspiring his audiences to be aware of fossil formations and the geological significance of Northeast Michigan even though dinosaurs don’t apply to Northeast Michigan.”

Witulski has noticed an excitement level in children visiting the museum when it comes to dinosaurs.

“We’ve had so many little kids coming in and saying, ‘I love dinosaurs.’ One child in particular said he wants to be a paleontologist when he grows up,” Witulski said.

Most of the 25 dinosaur bones in Paleo Joe’s exhibit are from private property in South Dakota. He estimates them to be about 65 million years old. He said he has been digging for dinosaur bones for about 15 years, and most recently has been spending a lot of his digging time in Utah.

“That area is so rich,” Paleo Joe said. “There were so many dinosaurs there. I work with a museum out of Rockford, Ill. You have to have a federal permit to dig on a federal site such as in Utah.”

All the bones he discovers there are the property of the Rockford museum.

“If the bones are found on private property, you get to keep those, such as the ones I will be bringing from South Dakota,” he said. “The ones I find digging in Utah have to stay with the museum in Rockford because that’s where I have the permit from.”

For more information about the Paleo Joe Dinosaur Bone Exhibit, call the Besser Museum at 356-2202. For more information about Paleo Joe, go to www.paleojoe.com.