I was ecstatic to find a hyracodon jaw during a PIT project at Toadstool Geologic Park in 2010. LISA BRAINARD/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
I was ecstatic to find a hyracodon jaw during a PIT project at Toadstool Geologic Park in 2010. LISA BRAINARD/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
Spring is here - supposedly. When it finally emerges, summer won't be far behind. It's time to think about vacation plans.

Have you ever had a desire to look for pioneer artifacts... or dig up a dinosaur bone... or perhaps learn skills and repair former living quarters on a fire tower for new life as an interpretive site? These are examples of the variety of projects offered to volunteers through the federal Passport in Time (PIT) program.

Most PIT projects are located on federal lands such as national forests or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sites. A working professional plans the project, which typically lasts from three days to a week or more. There's staff on hand to educate volunteers as needed, work alongside, see that work goes as planned, and, yes, to make sure you take water breaks if it's really hot... that kind of thing.

Now join me, please, in my excitement about PIT. The 2014 projects are starting to be listed online at passportintime.com. Click on headings at the top of the page to learn more about PIT, and browse past projects, as well as current offerings.

I feel very fortunate to have been selected as a PIT volunteer the first time I applied back in 2003. Projects have taken me to many sites I otherwise wouldn't have seen, developed new interests and forged friendships. I've shared tales over the years, but this time I'll give an overview of all the projects I've been on. They may jog memories of in-depth stories shared here in years past. I hope the variety serves to inspire you to apply for a project, and then it's my hope that you're selected. Remember, you can apply for more than one and more projects are listed all the time.

Now let's get into a listing of my volunteer PIT projects. "Arch" means an archaeology focus, while "Paleo" means paleontology.

1. Arch/2003. A dig seeking artifacts in the long-gone town of Miller Grove - founded and populated by Blacks - in Shawnee National Forest, in extreme southern Illinois. There was evidence it had been part of the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves.

2. Arch/2004. A pedestrian survey in the Oglala National Grasslands of northwestern Nebraska, seeking evidence of the single overnight stay of a Cavalry unit along a stream.

3. Arch/2005. A survey-updating site reports on known Native American rock art panels, and also seeking more in the southern Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota.

4. Arch/2006. A similar rock art survey was conducted in the same general location.

5. Arch/2007. A survey seeking the possible death location of a relative of Sitting Bull, as well as oral history interviews on how small pioneer ranches in the area were consolidated to eventually become very large ranches. Slim Buttes Unit, Custer National Forest in northwestern South Dakota.

6. Arch/2008. A pedestrian survey seeking and recording any wooden branch remnants of a Native American antelope trap and its drive wings on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in northeastern Wyoming.

7. Paleo/2010. A pedestrian survey seeking and then field dressing mammoth fossils dated back to around the Oligocene Epoch at Toadstool Geologic Park, Oglala National Grasslands, Nebraska.

8 Arch/2011. A pedestrian survey to locate pioneer homestead locations, a possible buffalo jump and whatever else we might spot on land "swapped" to the Black Hills National Forest, southwestern South Dakota.

9. Paleo/2012. A survey seeking and field dressing dinosaur bones in Custer National Forest, South Dakota.

Let me note PIT projects will definitely put you to work, but they're worthwhile endeavors in so many ways - and, yes, that includes fun. The program provides the tools and education you'll need, plus often times there are related speakers and field trips when the working day is done.

Group highlights have included 1) finding a Spanish-American War soldier's pin in the dirt mound of a Nebraska gopher hole, which we believe a homesteader must have lost; 2) hearing Plains Indian Wars expert/author Paul Hedren speak on Buffalo Bill Cody shooting and then scalping Indian chief Yellow Hair at the Nebraska site; 3) seeing all the rock art - and finding a new site myself where knives had been sharpened and marks left; 4) finding a soldier's rusty saber handle in South Dakota; 5) finding points and scrapers; 6) taking a field trip to see a pioneer homestead that not much later was lost to a forest fire in the Black Hills; 7) seeing a Triceratops horn on the ground; and 8) finding a hyracodon jaw myself at Toadstool.

To clarify, there is no personal collecting on these trips. Items found go to labs and museums. When I write "I found" something, I just mean I was doing my part as a volunteer with the group - and that time I had the thrill of making the find as opposed to another volunteer.

PIT projects have certainly enhanced my life. Passport in Time is beneficial to both its volunteers and project planners. To try it, just go to the link already listed, find a project and apply. Feel free to contact me with any questions at lbrainard@bluffcountrynews.com.