It was just a bunch of people digging for rocks in Hamburg on a Saturday in May, but that one day at the Penn Dixie fossil site generated an economic impact of about $32,000.
That’s according to a survey of 73 of the 165 participants at the annual “Dig with the Experts” undertaken by Penn Dixie Paleontological & Outdoor Education Center.
Fossil hunters from a dozen states came to the event, which allows paleontologists, both amateur and professional, to examine freshly excavated rocks from several feet below Penn Dixie’s surface. An excavator scraped off the overburden and brought large rocks to the surface, which were broken up, waiting for the hammers and chisels.
“When I started the job, I came across a lot of anecdotal information on the number of visitors from the state and country,” said Phil Stokes, executive director of the Hamburg Natural History Society, which operates the fossil park. “As a scientist, I wanted some hard data.”
Stokes, who has a background in analytics and social and behavioral science, decided to conduct a survey of those who attended the dig, which was supervised by paleontologists from Ohio.
“We wanted to showcase our value to the community and our impact as a tourist attraction,” Stokes said.
More than half of those surveyed said it was their first or second time visiting the former quarry in Hamburg, while 27 percent said they had been there five or more times. About 40 percent came from outside Western New York.
The average expenditure was $226 per person. Those who were surveyed said they spent $4,267 traveling to Hamburg, $1,235 at the event and $7,291 on accommodations. Visitors stayed in local lodgings, dined at local restaurants and visited area attractions while they were in town, Stokes said.
Aside from the economic impact, a major finding of the survey was that participants wanted to have a bathroom closer to the area that was being dug up. There are portable toilets near the entrance.
“The dig area was maybe 300 or 400 yards from the entrance,” he said, adding that the suggestion will be considered in future digs.
“We knew Penn Dixie had an economic effect on the area, but before this study, we didn’t know how much we contributed. Now, we have a good number and look forward to continuing success,” said David Hanewinckel, director of the Hamburg Natural History Society.
The study was conducted by Hanewinckel, Stokes, and Roger Levine, an independent consultant formerly of the American Institutes for Research.