To the editors:
The disappearance of accessible Mazon Creek fossil sites, discussed in Mike Sula's excellent article ["The Vanishing Mother Lode of Mazon Creek," July 2], is a loss not only to the community of dedicated amateur paleontologists, but to the people of Illinois, especially our children. For decades schoolchildren learned about ancient life firsthand, not just in museums and from books, but by collecting their own fossils from Mazon Creek sites. They could also go with groups to private quarries that exposed fossil-containing rocks from other periods of earth history. Liability fears have now made many of these inaccessible.
Other places have recognized the recreation, tourism, and educational value of accessible fossil-collecting sites. Mazon Creek is internationally known; as suggested, a portion of the Mazonia Braidwood State Fish & Wildlife Area should be set aside for collecting and periodically turned over with earthmoving equipment.
The article may leave a misleading impression about the relationships between amateur and professional paleontologists. The professional Paleontological Society makes an annual award to amateurs for "outstanding achievement in paleontology." These amateurs invariably have made close personal relationships with professionals and students; many have published in professional journals.
Finally, it was wonderful to see public recognition given to Gene Richardson. He was a gentleman in the finest sense of the word; his premature death was a loss to all paleontologists, both amateur and professional.
Professor, earth and environmental sciences
University of Illinois at Chicago