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Sunday Science: "Walk Through Time" at the world's oldest reef - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Sunday Science: "Walk Through Time" at the world's oldest reef

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ISLE LA MOTTE, Vt. -

The moment you step out of your car at the Goodsell Ridge Preserve in Isle La Motte, you're walking on history. The shadows of an ancient gastropod are etched in the rocks here. This is the start of the Walk Through Time.

"It's 4,600 feet long," says Isle La Motte Preservation Trust President Linda Fitch. "Because every foot represents a million years."

In January, she got a call asking if they wanted the exhibit. Now, panels chronicling Earth's history line the path through the meadows.

"We think it's a wonderful combination. It gets people outdoors, which they love to do. Our trails are really great," says Fitch. "But then we have this educational piece. One, the fossils that are here. They're fossils of the oldest reef in the world and almost half a billion years old."

That's right, the Chazy Reef we're walking on pre-dates coral reefs. If you know where to look, you can find fossils of ancient ancestors to today's snails or, a little off the beaten path, even squid and octopus.

"This kind of wonderful thing here was a very large cephalopod -- and here's a smaller one," says Fitch. "And part of another one."

But before those creatures would have a chance, they had to have oxygen to breathe. This panel explains how that happened.

"Oxygen was poisonous to life as it had developed up to that point," says Fitch. "So it was a mass extinction."

A mass extinction that led to the growth of new life. And as we walk through the trees, we come to an ancient underwater scene with sponges, trilobites and jellies about 540 million years ago. This is what our reef would have looked like.

"This reef here was the first biologically-diverse ecosystem," Fitch explains.

At about 250 million years ago, we're almost at the end of the walk, and we haven't even gotten to the dinosaurs yet. They're not far off though. In fact, the history most of us are familiar with -- the extinction of the dinosaurs and the rise of mammals -- only takes place in the last few feet of the path.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: "And just on this very last panel we get to us -- humans."

Fitch: "We do. Homo sapiens. Perhaps about a million years ago. Very, very recent, when you consider the entire history of Earth."

A history of Earth preserved in the Islands.

The exhibit was meant to be a loan, but Fitch told us it was gifted to them, so it's actually going to be a permanent feature now. They'll take it down for the winter in mid-October, and then put it back up again next year.

If you want to go, I recommend bug spray and sunscreen.

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