michael kors wallets This weekend, your family can dig for fossils in one of the world's premier fossil sites near SumitonA fossil digger finds a fossil at a Fresh Air Family Fossil Hunt. (Courtesy Fresh Air Family) -For the science geeks in your life, what could be better than digging forfossils in a 300-million-year-old site in Birmingham's backyard, and getting tokeep the fossils?

Few know about the Steven C. Minkin Paleozoic Footprint Site- formerly known as the Union Chapel Mine - but the site is one of Alabama'sgreat natural resources. ,a Birmingham-based non-profit, is inviting kids and their parents to at 9 a.m. or 1 p.m.Saturday, April 12. The outing is sponsored by the Kids 1st Club ofAmerica's First Federal Credit Union in Forestdale.

According to the , the site was discovered by Ashley Allen, anOneonta High School science teacher in 1999. He mentioned to his class that hewanted to take the students to look for fossils in a coal mine, and a studentpiped up and suggested they visit the Union Chapel Mine, old strip mine ownedby the student's family. What they found was a trove of easily-accessedfossils, and a site that eventually became the

"It's one of best places in the world to see coal-agefossils that predate the dinosaurs," Verna Gates, founder and executivedirector of Fresh Air Family, told AL.com. "We have all kinds of cool stuff outthere."

Many of the fossils are tracks - impressions of feet - from creaturesthat were alive about 300 million years ago. Some of the finds there includesimpressions of tracks from ,which Gates described as resembling "a six-foot long amphibian that lookslike a giant salamander with a fin on top."

"People come from all over the world to this[site]," Gates said.

Before the dig, Alabama Paleontological Society will do ashort presentation on the area's geologic history, and the kinds of creaturesand evidence of creatures people might find.

Gates doesn't recommend the outing for very young children -"It's rough, it's a rugged old coal mine," she said - but elementaryand middle school kids love it. The best part is that folks get to keep whatthey find "unless they get a museum-quality [piece], which we havefound."

Not many tools are required to dig through the shale. Gatessaid a screwdriver and a small hammer is enough to crack open the shale andlook inside.Newspaper to wrap up any finds, sunscreen, water, long pantsand good shoes are recommended.

Those wishing to go need to register by e-mailing orcalling 205.540.6642. Participants will need to meet at the Wal-Mart parkinglot in Sumiton (690 West Highway 78, Sumiton) at their assigned time (9 a.m. or1 p.m.). The event is for non-members of Fresh Air Family, and formembers.

"It really is educational," Gates said. "It's a reallygreat event for kids to go out."

In deeply personal responses, dozens of former inmates, family members of current inmates and volunteers with prison ministries have given detailed accounts of how their experiences with the facility continue to affect their lives.


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