MANTUA — Township officials met with employees of Lowe’s Home Improvement Thursday morning to accept a donation for field work at the Inversand fossil pit. The store sits in a shopping center adjacent to Inversand.
Employee-volunteers erected a shed that will facilitate field work for scientists and students currently excavating the site, where innumerable fossils dating back 65 million years have been steadily dug up over the last 12 years.
“Paleontology is a very labor-intensive science,” said Ken Lacovara, the Drexel University professor who leads excavations at Inversand. “Part of the problem we have is hauling fossils out of a 40-foot pit. This will allow us to do some initial preparation — removing sediment and all the things that make it heavy so we can more easily and safely transport it back to the lab.”
Gloucester County freeholder and economic development liaison Heather Simmons praised the cooperation between the township and business.
“Everything that happened here is because of partnerships,” she said. “Lowe’s, Mantua and Inversand came together to make this happen.”
The township hopes to one day turn the fossil pit into a museum, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning center and tourist attraction.
“We’ve developed a wonderful partnership,” said Robert Zimmerman, a township committeeman. “It helps put Mantua on the map. It’s amazing that this stuff is in our own backyard.”
Deputy Mayor Sharon Lawrence said she hoped a future permanent exhibit at the site would inspire children who visit Inversand.
“We want to encourage students to become interested in this,” she said.
The site is already a popular place to visit among fossil enthusiasts. A community dig last fall, in which members of the public were invited to come look for their own fossils, brought out more than 1,000 people from as far away as Virginia.
“It’s great to have great neighbors,” Lacovara said of Lowe’s. “The building they’re putting up is going to be a big help.”