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U.S. Designates Four New National Natural Landmarks

Photo of Cave Without a Name courtesy National Park Service A rare ecosystem in Pennsylvania, the sixth longest cave in Texas, and major fossil sites in Kentucky, New York, and Vermont were recently named National Natural Landmarks (NNL), the National Park Service said yesterday. “There are now 586 listed sites in the National Natural Landmarks...


Photo of Cave Without a Name courtesy National Park Service

A rare ecosystem in Pennsylvania, the sixth longest cave in Texas, and major fossil sites in Kentucky, New York, and Vermont were recently named National Natural Landmarks (NNL), the National Park Service said yesterday.

“There are now 586 listed sites in the National Natural Landmarks Program, which recognizes significant examples of natural history and supports property owners and managers in conservation efforts,” the National Park Service said in a press statement. The program is administered by the National Park Service.

The four new landmarks, announced by acting National Park Service Director Dan Wenk, are Nottingham Park Serpentine Barrens, Cave Without a Name, Big Bone Lick, and Chazy Fossil Reef. “Each of these sites has been identified, evaluated, and designated through a scientific process that formally acknowledges their outstanding biological or geological features,” Wenk said in the release.

John Francis is a member of the National Park System Advisory Board  and oversees the reviews and recommendations of NNL listings as Chair of its Science Committee. He is also National Geographic Vice President of Research, Conservation, and Exploration. “The NNL program is a lesser known, but very special part of the park system that should be celebrated,” Francis said in an email. “It reflects the true depth of natural wonders in our country and helps people connect to a wealth of treasures sometimes in their own backyards.”


Citizen Support

Students in 3rd grade at the New Haven Elementary School in Union, Kentucky, wrote letters in support of making Big Bone Lick a National Natural Landmark.

“Their letters were really great,” said Margi Brooks, National Natural Landmarks Program Manager. “They wrote in during the required 60-day comment period. They told me all the reasons they enjoyed the site, some of the things they do there, and urged me to take good care of our United States of America. 

“I wrote them back right away, thanked them, and sent them all Landmark calendars. They were flabbergasted that someone in the federal government actually WROTE BACK!

“I think, and their teacher pointed this out, that it is so important for kids to feel that we listen to them, and that places they care about can be recognized and conserved if they speak up and state their case. These third graders did an outstanding job of doing that — and look what they helped accomplish.

“I believe the scientist who evaluated the site will be speaking to this class on Friday — so they continue to be interested and involved.”

Photo of 3rd Grade students courtesy New Haven Elementary School

“We have only had six new Landmarks designated during the past 20 years, so this is exciting for us as well as for the owners and managers of these sites,” said National Natural Landmarks Program Manager Margi Brooks. 

“The designation process is really quite rigorous, and ensures that sites chosen are outstanding examples of the resources they represent.

“Designation as a National Natural Landmark allows the National Park Service to act as an advocate for the conservation of the Landmark resources. It also allows us to become partners with the site managers and assist them if they so request. This might include working together on grant applications, site improvements, or educational materials,” Brooks said in an email.

Another part of the program’s role is information exchange and outreach, Brooks said — “making the public aware of our country’s incredible natural heritage is an important part of this program.”

For a site, designation as a National Natural Landmark recognizes that they have one of the best examples of a particular resource, “and this is something they can be very proud of,” Brooks added.


The National Park Service provided the following descriptions of the four new National Natural Landmarks:

The Nottingham Park Serpentine Barrens in Chester County, Pennsylvania support unique vegetation communities that contain many rare and endemic species, including one of the northernmost occurrences of fame flower.The site also has one of the state’s largest stands of pitch pine forest.

Nottingham Park Serpentine Barrens photo courtesy National Park Service

Cave Without a Name in Kendall County, Texas contains exceptional cave formations, a rare and threatened salamander, and significant paleontological deposits.

Big Bone Lick in Boone County, Kentucky is unique for its combination of salt springs and associated Late Pleistocene bone beds. The site has been referred to as the birthplace of vertebrate paleontology in North America.

The Big Bone fossils played a very important role in the development of scientific thought regarding the idea of extinction and the relationship of geology and paleontology.

The Chazy Fossil Reef in Grand Isle County, Vermont and Clinton County, New York contains surface exposures of an Ordovician fossil reef. The reef recounts the tropical, marine environment that existed approximately 450 million years ago on the continental shelf of North America.

This paleontological treasure represents the oldest known occurrence of a biologically diverse fossil reef in the world, the earliest appearance of fossil coral in a reef environment, and the first documented example of the ecological principle of faunal succession.


The Fisk Quarry Preserve on Isle La Motte, Vermont is one site of several sites exposing the  Chazy Fossil Reef. This ancient fossil reef was formed 480-450 million years ago in a shallow tropical sea straddling the equator. It is the oldest known biologically diverse fossil reef in the history of life on earth. Fossils called stromotoporoids can be found in the quarry walls. The Fisk Quarry Preserve along with the nearby Goodsell Ridge Preserve, is owned and managed by the Isle La Motte Preservation Trust.

Photo and caption courtesy Isle La Motte Preservation Trust

National Natural Landmarks Frequently Asked Questions

Related National Geographic News story:

Fossil “Pompeii” of Prehistoric Animals Named U.S. Landmark

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