CAIRO — Cairo officials are examining the best way to use the oldest fossil forest in the world.
A research team from Binghamton University was sifting through fossil soils at a quarry behind the Cairo Highway Department when they discovered the root system of trees thought to be 385 million years old, dating back to the Devonian Age, according to a release from Binghamton University.
The forest is believed to predate a fossilized forest in Gilboa, formerly the world’s oldest forest, by 2 million to 3 million years.
Councilman Jason Watts discussed having the two-acre property appraised Monday.
“For the amount of money we would sell it for, we probably wouldn’t have to have land taxes in the town of Cairo if we managed the money properly,” Watts said. “We could build a community center, actually put a courthouse in. We would actually be able to do a lot more stuff.”
Town Supervisor John Coyne said he is not interested in selling the property and is looking to secure the site as an educational resource.
“I am in contact with colleges and other not-for-profits to work with us to get funding to protect the location first,” he said.
Watts said he is the only member of the board advocating to sell the property.
“We can’t afford to protect it even,” Watts said. “I believe the private sector could do a lot more with it and offer more than the government could do with it.”
Watts received an estimate of $500,000 to $1 billion from a firm in Syracuse, he said. He did not recall the name of the firm.
“I would love to see it go to a school, that would be great and let them study it,” Watts said. “There’s only one in the world.”
Selling the property would have a greater benefit, Watts said.
“Listen, we got to make it somehow in this town and we own the Mona Lisa of land, so we might as well sell it,” he said. “It’s not making us any money sitting there.”
Councilwoman Mary-Jo Cords said she would like to see a proper appraisal of the property.
“If it’s worth a lot, we could sell it, as long as we make sure it’s going to be used properly in an educational way,” she said.
The sale of the property would need to cover the cost of relocating the highway department, Cords said, and could also be used toward other community projects.
Cords echoed Watts’ concerns with funding.
“We don’t really have the money to protect it the way it needs to be protected,” she said. “It would be better for the use of the site if somebody that had the money purchased it.”
The value of the property warrants preservation, Cords said.
“It’s a geological phenomenon and is supposed to be the oldest fossilized trees in the world but it needs protecting,” she said. “It needs to be fenced off so people don’t drive over it with ATVs or try to collect souvenirs.”
Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102, met with town officials in October to discuss the forest’s future.
“We considered the potential for the forest to become a tourist attraction as well as an important educational resource but first, the need to protect and preserve the property,” Tague said in a statement. “I’m eager to see what opportunities it will bring to Cairo, Greene County, and the entire region.”
The town met with Tague and representatives of the state Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation to discuss funding for the site, Coyne said.
Initial estimates for chain-link fencing to protect the site were about $1,500.
The board also enlisted the help of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene Counties, Coyne said.