ALTAMONT — Close to 50 people gathered at the Ballard Nature Center Saturday to learn about prehistoric creatures that at one time roamed the Earth.

Brian Poelker of Heartville has held an annual Family Science Day at the nature center for the past 12 years and this year the event focused on geology, which Poelker has extensive knowledge of.

The retired Eastern Illinois University instructor taught geology for 28 years in Peoria before retiring and taking a position at EIU. In 1993, Poelker received national recognition for teaching geology from The Geographical Society of America.

This year he put out a massive display of dinosaur-related artifacts.

“This is more look and question than hands on,” Poelker said, referring to his previous science events.

“Tonight we are bringing the museum here,” he said.

Poelker collects dinosaur artifacts from around the world. He said a majority of Saturday's display he collected while on research trips, or digs, to Utah.

“You teach this stuff for 43 years, you collect stuff,” Poelker said. “Then my wife says you’ve got to get it out of the basement and bring it here to show.”

And he did. Poelker lined the walls of the Ballard Nature Center lower level with his findings over the years. Among the hundreds of items on display were a left rib and a right fibula from a Hadrosaur dinosaur found on an Indian Reservation in Browning, Montana.

Poelker made a short presentation of close to 40 slides with a primary focus on the Two Medicine rock formation in north central Montana, where fossils and bones of dinosaurs have been discovered. He said the formation is a thick deposit of rock divided into sections — upper, middle and lower.

In the upper level of Two Medicine, Poelker said the types of dinosaurs found include the Hypacrasaurus, Prosaurolophus and Daspletosaurus. In the middle layer of rock, remains of Maiasaura, Troodon and Gorgosaurus dinosaurs were found while in the lower level, Achristavus dinosaur fossils and bones were found.

According to Poelker, the Achristavus dinosaur had a duck bill (head that looked similar to a duck) perfect for grazing. He said another term for the duck bill dinosaur is Hadrosaur.

Poelker went through the different species of dinosaurs, giving the audience an idea of how big they were believed to be and highlighting predominate features, such as how their physical appearance were thought to be and showed several drawings and illustrations during his presentation.

Poelker also noted other characteristics during the presentation. The Hypacrasaurus, found in the upper level of the Two Medicine Formation, were thought to have moved in herds or flocks, he said.

After the presentation, Poelker fielded questions from the children who followed him around the room as he talked about the different items he had on display.

Cary and Dina Jackson of Dieterich brought their two children, Gabe and Grace, to Saturday’s presentation. It was their first time to experience one of Poelker’s presentations. Cary Jackson is the superintendent of Dieterich Schools while his wife, Dina, is a second grade teacher.

“He is very interested in dinosaurs and entering the field of paleontology as a career,” Cary Jackson said of his 12-year-old son, Gabe, who was carefully examining Poelker’s exhibit.

“I thought it was interesting how accessible the fossils are and how many there must be,” Cary Jackson said about the evening presentation. “

“It is interesting they are finding so many bones,” Dina Jackson said. “And how they put the skeletal pieces together to figure out what parts of the body they are making.”

“I look at it and see a rock,” Dina Jackson said. “You have to have an eye for what you’re looking at.”

Amy Stewart brought her two sons, Kaiden and Brendan, to the presentation from Effingham and has attended presentations by Poelker in the past.

“We enjoy learning about dinosaurs,” Amy Stewart said. “And seeing all of the fossils he has collected.”

“We also enjoy being able to have the hands on, being able to touch them and see them in person,” Stewart said. “We think that’s pretty cool,”

“Also he does a great job with his presentations” Stewart added.

Charles Mills can be reached at or by phone at 217-347-7151 ext. 126.