Reports of the National Center for Science Education

Briscoe Geology Park

Briscoe Geology Park
Reviewed by
Len Eisenberg

A typical fourth grader can
rattle off the names of the
planets, but does not know
the names of the geological chapters
of earth history, how old the
earth is, when dinosaurs lived, or
much else about the history of earth
and the life on it. One common
excuse for this gap in science education
is that these topics are too
complicated; but the real reason is
the conflict with traditional beliefs
— either those of the teacher or of
the parents the teacher does not
wish to offend. In Ashland, Oregon,
the Briscoe Geology Park was built
to help students, residents and visitors
better understand how our
planet and life have changed dramatically
through time and how
local geology fits into the picture.

In fall 2006, community volunteers
proposed to the Ashland
School District the construction of
a geology park in an unused corner
of a closed elementary school.
Permission was granted, and with
the help of Ashland Parks and
Recreation Department, volunteers
built the Briscoe Geology
Park. The park is designed to operate
on multiple levels of ability,
such that local university students
as well as elementary school students
can find it a friendly place to
learn a complex subject.

Three "time walks" at the park
explain how earth and life have
changed through time (Figure 1).Figure 1Figure 1
Each time walk is divided into geologic
eons, periods or epochs, as
appropriate. The time walks are
clearly labeled in tile and of an
appropriate length. Hand-made
tiles set into the concrete walkways
(Figure 2) show animal and
plant species representative of
each time interval. Figure 2Figure 2Other tiles,
placed at appropriate points along
the time walks, note local geologic
events, mass extinctions, ice ages,
and human and planetary events.
Tracks of trilobites, tetrapods and
dinosaurs show how these animals
moved (Figure 3), and tile plate
tectonic maps depict continental
drift through time.

Figure 3Figure 3

The Earth Time Walk describes
the entire 4600-million–year history
of earth, and one step along this
20-meter–long path covers about
150 million years. The Life Time
Walk covers from the start of the
Cambrian Period, 542 million years
ago, when multicellular life blossomed,
to the present, and each
step along this 60-meter–long path
covers about five million years.
The Human Time Walk describes
the most recent 50 000 years of
earth history, and one step along
this 8-meter path covers about
4000 years. An introductory sign
and guideposts introduce visitors
to geologic time and the features
of the park, and help them navigate
between the different time
scales of each walk. Other signs
note plant species used in the landscaping,
and provide information
on local rock types. There are also
four large interpretive signs, one
each to explain local geology, mass extinctions, plate tectonics, and
evolution (Figure 4).

Figure 4Figure 4

Landscaping along the Life Time
Walk follows the evolution of land
plants. Along the Cambrian and
Ordovician sections the landscaping
is bare rock, because land
plants (except perhaps for algae)
had not colonized the land at that
time. Mosses and liverworts, representing
the first land plants, appear
along the Silurian part of the walk,
followed, at appropriate points, by
club mosses, horsetails and ferns,
cycads, conifers, ginkgo, flowering
plants and grasses. In addition,
boulders of local rock types are
laid out in stratigraphic order
across the park, tilted slabs of rock
are placed to mimic outcrops of
anticlines and synclines, and fossils
and interesting rock types are
incorporated into retaining walls.

A 20-page color brochure is
available at the park for extra-curious
visitors. In it detailed descriptions
of major events and interesting
organisms are provided for
each geologic interval. Extra information
on plant evolution, mass
extinctions, biological evolution,
local geology, and plate tectonics is also included. For students, a two-part
educational program has been
set up by the North Mountain Park
Nature Center. First a docent visits
the classroom and explains geologic
time and how to use the scale
bar on a tile to determine the size
of the animal depicted. This is followed
by a field trip to the park,
during which students use information
at the park to discover
earth history. Discovery is helped
along by multi-page activity sheets
that students fill out at the park.
There are three sets of activity
sheets, one each for elementary,
middle and high school grade levels.
A 55-page teacher's guide gives
educators detailed information on
all aspects of the park.

Reaction so far has been very
positive from the schools and the
community. We hear that the artwork
of the tiles, the lush landscaping,
high quality rock work,
and the interpretive signs combine
to make the Park a pleasure to visit
and the science fun and interesting
to learn. Readers are cordially invited
to visit Ashland and the Briscoe
Geology Park.

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