ELLERBE — The addition of a flowing flume of water has given the Rankin Museum’s annual Geology Dig new life.
Last Saturday was the second dig with the flume. Before, the children’s imaginations would have to work a bit harder to imagine they were sifting through a stream like the miners of old while their parents awkwardly sprayed their mounds of dirt with a water hose.
The children each get a bag of dirt, donated by the Rockingham Rotary Club, and pour a light pile onto their sifting pans and gently “see-saw” either end of the pan in the flowing water to allow it to wash away the rocks and pebbles to reveal brilliantly colored stones and minerals.
“Science is one of those things where you don’t think kids would be interested but you get them out here and they’re like ‘wow, this is really cool,’” said Jason Coen of Rockingham, who brought his children, 7-year-old Jacob and 5-year-old Allie, out to the dig. They went to the Museum of Life and Science in Durham recently, and Coen said his kids “would’ve stayed there all day.”
“This isn’t something you see in Richmond County,” he said. “It’s good to have something like this closer to home.”
The dig started with an introduction into the three kinds of rocks: metamorphic rocks, which are formed through intense heat and pressure from being deep under the earth’s surface; sedimentary rocks, which are made through a steady layering of different materials that pack together over time; and igneous rocks, which are formed through the cooling of magma or lava.
Museum Director Emilie Cobb, who gave the children a presentation on the rocks they would find in their bags before they began, said even though the kids may not all grasp the nomenclature, the act of finding some kind of rock they’ve never seen is enough to potentially spark an interest in the field later in life.
“Maybe one day a kid will say, ‘Hey, I did this thing when I was five and I’m gonna go be a geologist now,’” Cobb said. “You never know.”
Twins Ella and Brice Lockamy, 9, gained an interest in digging from their grandfather’s passion in Native American artifacts, according to their grandmother, Cheryl Hall, of Mount Gilead. The family does similar digs often and the twins each have large collections of rocks that piqued their interest. Hall said Ella is “very methodical” about how she categorizes her rocks, while Brice keeps his in two peanut butter jars and other bags.
“It’s just amazing finding all these rocks, they’re really pretty,” Ella said, gasping every few seconds at each brilliantly colored rock she found, some crystalline with pastel hues, others boldly fluorescent.
The event was free to the public. There were four groups of about 20 kids each participating. Brett Webb, president of the museum’s Board of Directors, said they see many familiar faces coming out to the digs because one experience tends to bring them back. The Rankin Museum will hold it’s annual Fossil Fair on Sept. 22.
Webb said the museum has set a goal to have four such events a year rather than two.
As the children began to finish their bags, 10-year-old Alyssa Sellers found a new challenge: digging through the discard bucket to find what others had missed.
“A lot of people miss the little things but a lot of times the little things are prettier than the big things,” Alyssa said. She added that while she wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up, “this can be my hobby.” Her mother, Angie McCaskill, said Alyssa keeps bags of seashells and fossils which help her stay challenged academically.
Leanne Brewer, 24, who began working for the museum as an intern in 2015 and is now a volunteer, said the flume has helped the museum grow because it’s the only one in the county.
“I like seeing the happiness they have when they find a really good one — there’s that glow,” Brewer said.
Karen Brewer, Leanne’s mother and secretary of the museum’s board, has been a middle school earth sciences teacher for 18 years and said she’s watched children’s interest in geology grow over the years from the first “glow” to something more.
“Kids like to dig in the dirt anyhow but here they can take it home” where they can analyze them and come up with their own system of categorizing them, the elder Brewer said. “Once they start questioning that’s always the gateway to learning.”
Gavin Stone can be reached at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]