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A new group that wants to preserve the former Penn-Dixie shale quarry in Hamburg as a fossil park to aid in the study of the natural sciences held its first public meeting Thursday night to help launch a $337,000 fund-raising campaign to purchase the 56 acres site.

"I'm very optimistic that we can do it," Jerold Bastedo, president of the Hamburg Natural History Society told about 15 people who attended the group's first public meeting in the Hamburg Town Hall.

Robert Hoffman, treasurer for the society, said members plan to pursue a five year development strategy which includes the purchase of the property, cleaning it up and securing it, and offering fossil hunt tours to school children and groups on an ongoing bases.

"It's definitely worth a try. We don't know of any other fossil park in the United States," Hoffman said.

Hoffman said the group plans to tap corporate sponsorship, scientific associations and natural science organizations, as well as available grants, to raise enough money to purchase the property within the next two years.

The owner of the property is cooperating with the group to help them purchase it. Bastedo said the town would own the land, and the society would administer it. The group plans to meet again June 17 in Town Hall.

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