Put on a Shark Tooth Grin

Fossils are so abundant in Shark Tooth Creek, visitors are practically guaranteed to find at least one. (Progressive Farmer image by Jody More)

Fossilized shark teeth and vertebrae keep the visitors to Ken and Betty Owens' rural-Alabama farm coming by the busload. What makes their Aliceville destination so unique is the creek here, known locally as Shark Tooth Creek, isn't anywhere near the coast. It's actually some 300 miles inland.

"The Museum of Natural History at the University of Alabama called over 40 years ago," says Ken, explaining the interest in the site. "I saw that there was a great interest in the shark teeth and what we had here."

The abundant fossils in this creek go back over 2 million years. And, visitors who go on a guided fossil hunt receive a rare guarantee -- they will go home with a shark's tooth. Many leave with 20 or 30. Archaeologists believe more than 16 species of sharks lived in the area at one time.

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Once just an ordinary farm creek, Shark Tooth is an outdoor classroom for thousands of kids throughout the region. Visitors learn Alabama was once a seabed in the Gulf of Mexico. Aliceville is believed to have been a barrier island. As time passed and water levels receded, evidence of the sea creatures that once lived here was buried. The creek's running water constantly unearths these gems.

A day at Shark Tooth Creek starts with a ride in the "Shark Tooth Creek Express," a converted 24-foot enclosed cow trailer. This carries visitors to the creek, where they will pan for those Ice Age fossils. In addition, the Owenses have added activities including zip-lining, swimming, fishing and water trampolining. They also have camping areas and canoeing.

"This is a great adventure for kids," Ken explains. "Teachers rave about it and say that it is the best field trip in the state."

A teacher from one second-grade class out of Tuscaloosa, Mrs. Hardy, left a note on Ken's website, typical of many: "I have been teaching school for 20 years, and Shark Tooth Creek is the most awesome field trip I have ever been on. The effort Mr. Ken puts forth to make this a great trip is fabulous. Their farm is beautiful."

The creek itself begins at the Owens' farm and stretches nearly three miles -- eventually flowing into the Sipsey River. Visitors come to the creek from early April through the end of October. All visits are by reservation.

For Ken and Betty, sharing this unique treasure brings them a lot of joy. "I enjoy doing what I do," Ken says. "I put a smile on a lot of people's faces."

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

> www.sharktoothcreek.com

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