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A new group wants to save the former Penn-Dixie shale quarry in Hamburg's Bayview area for future fossil hunters.

The Hamburg Natural History Society plans to purchase, develop and maintain the 56-acre site as a fossil preserve and outdoor education center. Plans call for nature trails, ponds and plenty of access for fossil collectors, said Jerold Bastedo, society president.

"We will meet at 8 p.m. Thursday in Hamburg Town Hall to explain what we are, what we've done and to outline our first five-year plan," he said.

Bastedo, chief geologist with Ecology and Environment, said the abandoned quarry has been the target of development schemes for years. It is currently zoned for commercial/light industrial use.

"The quarry has been known for its fossils for at least 25 years," he said. Bastedo has been leading field trips there for 20 years, finding trilobites, brachiopods, clams, crinoids, corals and cephalopods.

"This was a warm, tropical sea 350 million years ago," he said, "and it may be unique, both because of the numbers of fossils there as well as their diversity. It is almost inexhaustible, it is safe and easy of access -- perfect for school and museum groups as well as for scientific study. You can go to the site almost any time of year and find fossils lying on the floor of the quarry 'weathered out' by the forces of nature."

The Natural History Society has signed a letter of intent to purchase the property. The site will belong to the Town of Hamburg but will be administered by the society.

"It will be unusual, too, in that we plan to allow collectors to continue seeking specimens there," Bastedo said.

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