ISLE LA MOTTE — Imagine a time before Vermont was a state, before all the trees, grass, animals and people lived here, before Lake Champlain existed. Picture an ocean-covered world 480 million years ago – what was here?

Thanks to the Goodsell Ridge Fossil Preserve, anyone who visits Isle La Motte can see the fossils of trilobites, cephalopods, sponge-shaped creatures called stromatoporoids and many other sea-creatures that once lived in the Iapetus Ocean on Chazy Fossil Reef, what scientists have named the oldest biologically diverse reef in the world.

“We have millions of years of evolution exposed,” said Lake Champlain Land Trust Executive Director Chris Boget on Wednesday.

“This was a great reef city,” added Linda Fitch, the Isle La Motte Preservation Trust Director. “All life was in the ocean at that time.”

The preserve was put under permanent conservation in 2005, when Isle La Motte Preservation Trust and Lake Champlain Land Trust partnered up to raise $350,000 to buy the property.

“These natural areas are so important,” said Boget. “You have to get out in nature to experience it.”

Walk Through Time

In addition to the natural learning tools at the Goodsell Ridge Fossil Preserve, visitors can now enjoy a new, world-class exhibit. “A Walk Through Time … From Stardust to Us” was recently installed on the 83-acre preserve, with 71 illustrative panels explaining the 4.6 billion-year evolution of the earth.

It is set up along a 4,600 foot-long trail, carefully measured for weeks to have one foot representing one million years of history. A mowed-grass path and little brown signs labeled with “WTT” lead along the visitor, winding past grass and wildflowers, trees and critters, through fields and forests and, of course, through time.

A volatile atmosphere slowly growing steadier, bacterial forms, ice ages, amphibious creatures and the rise of the animal dot the path on the colorful and informational exhibit panels, bringing visitors eventually to what is a relatively new life-form on earth beginning 5 million years ago: humans.

The walk through the exhibit, if done at an average pace, takes about an hour.

“This exhibit is amazing,” said Boget. “It’s just a bonanza for anyone who’s interested in science.”

The exhibit was created by scientist Sid Liebes at Hewlett Packard in 1997, is one of three that have been on loan to various organizations, museums and conferences around the world. While originally planned to be at Isle La Motte between June and October 2014, the “WTT” exhibit was recently gifted to the Goodsell Ridge Preserve.

The grand opening for it is on Sunday, between 1 and 5 p.m.

Getting out to discover

Boget and Fitch want everyone to know that the Goodsell Ridge Preserve and “WTT” exhibit is free and open to all, and can be seen at anytime.

“It’s a world-renowned resource and it needs to be shared,” said Boget. “We want people to get excited about the history. You can’t get much older than this.”

Boget added that while looking at the exhibit, he hopes visitors young and old will benefit from it’s placement outdoors, where people can also interact with the fossils, with trees, plants and flowers, and with the snakes, butterflies, birds, insects and other creatures darting across the path.

“We all have that innate sense of wonderment,” said Boget. “It’s about discovery.”

If you go …

The Goodsell Ridge Preserve includes a Visitor’s Center/ Museum, interpretive paths, and walking trails. Directions: Follow the Main Road on Isle La Motte south to Quarry Road. Turn left. Travel to the T. Turn left again. The Goodsell Ridge will be the first left.

Visitors to the sites are asked to respect the rules of these protected sites which include no removal of plants, animals, or rocks from the preserve. Fossil collecting is strictly forbidden. These are places for quiet walking, observation and learning, but not for vehicular traffic, bicycles, or other activities which may damage the fragile ecosystem and geological formations of the preserves.