Chazy Reef – Part 1

What started as a brief getaway turned into a trip full of surprises that I wish to share today. We decided to point the car in the general direction of nearby Vermont with only one destination – and that only for a few hours of exploring and shooting. From there the plan was no plan – just wherever whim might take us. A google search for “Vermont fossils” yielded the name “Chazy Reef,” a site unfamiliar to me but worth checking out. And, after a couple of emails back and forth, we were set for a guided tour.

According to Charlotte Merhtens, Ph.D. and geologist at the University of Vermont, “The Chazy Fossil Reef is significant as the oldest known occurrence of a biologically diverse fossil reef, the earliest appearance of fossil coral in a reef environment, and the first documented example of the principle of ecological faunal succession (the process of change in an ecosystem over time.”) The reef itself takes up approximately the lower third of Isle La Motte, which sits in the northernmost section of Lake Champlain. It reaches back in time to the Ordovician Period, roughly 450 to 480 million years ago.

Equally fascinating to me is the story of the Isle La Motte Preservation Trust and its founder and president, Ms Linda Fitch, the indefatigable (and charming) driving force behind it. Linda, one of the 500 residents of this island wonderland, was moved to action back in the 90’s when the sound of a jackhammer signaled the revival of quarrying operations at the old Fisk Quarry, threatening the tranquility of the island but more importantly threatening this storehouse of important information about earliest life on this planet. After years of legal battles, Ms Fitch and her friends and neighbors established the Trust. According to their website: “It was founded in 1998 by citizens who wanted to preserve the historic Fisk Quarry, site of an ancient 480 million year old fossil reef known to scientists as the Chazy Reef. Since then, thanks to partnerships with the Preservation Trust of Vermont and with the Lake Champlain Land Trust,  ILMPT has now acquired over 100 acres of the fossil reef on Isle La Motte. This land is now protected in two preserves: the Fisk Quarry Preserve and the Goodsell Ridge Preserve.”

The lead image is one of many fossils (in this case a gastropod) found in the exposed bedrock. Many more to come in the next installment after I wade through the ample shooting I was afforded. Until then I’d like to share some of the island with you.

Upon completion of my shooting, as we prepared to depart to points unknown, Ms Fitch told us that one of her guest cottages was available if we cared to stay. The stone cottage, built in the 1700s(?), had all the charm one could wish for. Of course we stayed.

And the view out the front door was priceless.

A short walk from the cottage led to the old Fisk Quarry…

…site of some of the strangest fossils I’ve ever seen – stromatoporoids – reef builders that look like giant cabbages. That’s them – looking from afar like whitewashed graffiti (close-ups to come).

Equally amazing is the old Fisk Farm, visited by Theodore Roosevelt in 1901 and now Ms Fitch’s home, a compound that includes the aforementioned cottage, main house, barn and assorted outbuildings.

The refurbished barn acts as an art gallery, a performance space touting a pair of baby grand pianos (with an appropriate Summer schedule of world class musical events). Across from the barn is the Tea Room, site of Sunday gatherings throughout the Summer.

So what looks like a sleepy island retreat is in fact a focal point of interesting current activity, historical anecdotes, and profound scientific value. And with Ms Fitch’s ever optimistic bent and boundless energy, the future holds enormous promise.

I’ll have more on this trip in future posts. Until then,I’ll leave you with a few random pics from the visit, including a smile goodbye from Isle La Mott!

Thank you as always for visiting. More images at www.artmurphy.com

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15 thoughts on “Chazy Reef – Part 1

  1. What beautiful photographs and story behind them! Looks like it was an inspiring place to visit. I am fascinated by the history surrounding the emergence of the coral reef… so cool! Looks like a great guest house to stay in! I would have stayed also lol! Great post and wonderful work 🙂

  2. Pingback: Chazy Reef – Part 2 | artandfossils

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