High Falls Conservancy’s Free Geology Lecture Series Begins This Thursday
Beginning July 7 and for the next three Thursday evenings, the geologically gifted hamlet of High Falls will host a series of fun, free, and accessible science lectures for curious adults and kids ages 10 and up. “High Falls Rocks” marks the tenth anniversary of the founding of High Falls Conservancy and a revival of the nonprofit organization’s public gatherings for the first time since COVID hit.
If you were a kid who always came back from walks with a cool pebble or two in your pocket, you won’t want to miss this series, which covers 450 million years of geologic time. You may already be familiar with the rich history of High Falls as the place where the first deposit of Silurian dolomite that went into making Rosendale cement was discovered by workers digging the D&H Canal in 1825. Legendary for its strength, its hardness, fine grain, lustrous sheen, resistance to gunfire, and ability to harden under water, Rosendale cement went into the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, and the west wing of the U.S. Capitol (not to mention a number of coastal forts in the South that thwarted Union attacks soon after, necessitating the invention and manufacture of the Parrott Gun at West Point Foundry).
But there is much more interesting geological knowledge to discover about this region, even for laymen. For decades, one of the most popular courses for non-science majors at SUNY New Paltz was a survey course called Planet Earth, taught by Dr. Constantine Manos. The semester always ended with a bus tour of the fascinating geological sites of Ulster County; two of the stops were features exposed by erosion along the bed of Rondout Creek at High Falls. One is the distinctive anticline fold on the North Rim just below the falls, shown in the Conservancy’s logo. This anticline is arguably as iconic of High Falls as the Sky Top tower in New Paltz or the Rondout trestle in Rosendale.
What makes the rocks bend like that? That’s one of the questions the High Falls Rocks series will answer, courtesy of its host, Dr. Bill Heins, an internationally renowned geoscientist. Currently a resident of Kingston, Heins taught as an adjunct at Vassar College for a few years in the 1990s after earning his doctorate from UCLA. Then he took a job as a professor of geology at “a little college in Idaho,” Lewis-Clark State; but pay was poor and head teachers did not retire to make way for advancement. In 2001, he was, in his own words, “abducted by an alien by Exxon Mobil. They hired a group of professors to answer specific technical questions. So, I solved it and stayed for almost 20 years.
A self-proclaimed environmentalist, Heins seems unlikely to work in the fossil fuel industry for so long. “They poached me. It was not my first choice,” he admits. His area of specialization at Exxon Mobil was surveying, mapping and evaluating “reservoir quality” for petroleum and other geological deposits, for which he had a particular talent. He had long called himself a “lithopsychologist” (in fact, his LinkedIn avatar is a picture of him dressed and posing as Sigmund Freud). “Whenever there is poor reservoir quality, if we look at the life history of that rock, either they had bad parents or traumatic experiences,” he explains. “For example, volcanic rock is a horrible parent for an oil reservoir.”
During his two decades at Exxon, Heins built up a tremendous database of geological formations and their behavior with respect to liquid flow, and he mastered emerging software to model and map that data. He didn’t like living in Texas any more than he liked working for a petrochemical giant: “The climate is brutal, the topography is mind-numbing, and there’s an oppressive political culture,” he says. His family lived in Meyerland, the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Houston, which suffered “three consecutive 500-year floods” during those years.
After Hurricane Harvey hit and his youngest child graduated from high school, Heins and his wife Judit decided to move to New York, where he started a geotechnology consulting business called Ammonite Resources. In 2020 they bought a house in Kingston, and he is now Chief Geoscientist on staff at UK firm Getech, bringing his wealth of knowledge and experience to a company whose mission is to help industry energy to shift away from fossil fuels, with an emphasis on geothermal and green hydrogen.
And so it was that the Heins were strolling along the Creek Walk in High Falls, traversing the anticline and snapping photos, when Richard and Carole Eppley, founders of the Conservancy, arrived and struck up a conversation. “I’m afraid we tackled him on the spot,” Richard said. The Eppleys were looking for a topic for a series of live educational events to reconnect their organization with the public, and Bill Heins volunteered to give a few talks. “I like talking to people about stones and, if they’re interested, fueling their passion,” he says.
The High Falls Fire Station will host the four hour-long presentations, which begin at 6 p.m. on July 7. The topics that will be discussed each following Thursday are:
July 7 – An overview of plate tectonics and geological processes.
July 14 – What the local world looked like when the rocks now exposed at High Falls were deposited.
July 21 – Mountain-building events that deformed local rocks to create the anticline fold at the falls, along with other local structures.
July 28 – Erosion and evolution of the landscape since the opening of the Atlantic Ocean until today.
Light refreshments will be available on all four evenings and the final conference will conclude with a reception with Heins in the Garden at 5-7 Second Street (Sue Paterson Way), one block from the fire station. Berkshire Hathaway Nutshell Realty and Mary Collins Real Estate will provide refreshments and Green Cottage will send a special bouquet.
The Eppleys were successful in recruiting many other High Falls businesses to turn this lecture series into a month-long citywide celebration. On Thursdays only, Ollie’s Pizza will be offering a High Falls on the Rocks cocktail. High Falls Punch Rocks will be High Falls Café’s special drink throughout the month of July. American Beauty Deli will be offering a specially formulated, ginger-infused High Falls Rocks lemonade. The Last Bite replaces ice with frozen chunks of granite in his Moscow Mule. The Egg’s Nest offers two dessert drinks, the alcoholic Discovery of Cement and a non-alcoholic Rocky Road Root Beer (or Coca-Cola) float. The Spy Social Eatery and Bar has added View from the Falls Street Corn with Poached Egg to the July menu. At the High Falls Food Co-Op, you can find rock salad, river rock soup, and lava rock. McHenry and Co. is offering a discount for High Falls Rocks. Kaete Brittin Shaw’s gallery features a unique vessel inspired by the falls and nearby rock face. Other local businesses supporting the event include Jake’s Auto Body, Duchess Farms, Abbott Automotive and Mohonk Preserve.
Admission to the High Falls Rocks Lecture Series, individually or as a whole, is free as part of the High Falls Conservancy Tenth Anniversary Commemoration. For more details about the event or how to get involved as a Conservancy volunteer, call or text Carole Eppley at (917) 705-8711, email [email protected] or visit www.facebook.com/highfallsconservancy.