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Driving Inspiration With Natural History

Driving Inspiration With Natural History

Colossal Fossils is growing and there are no signs of slowing down.  Celebrating it's 7th year in business, this non-profit organization, based in Wausau, Wisconsin, has been continuing its outreach efforts throughout the state in the most unusual fashion: By bringing a bunch of old bones to schools, libraries, or museums, and telling their story.  From retirement communities to Boy Scout meetings, Colossal Fossils is teaching people everywhere about this planet's history.
"Every fossil tells a story." says David Daniels, the founder and executive director of Colossal Fossils. "We started this organization in October of 2011 with nothing more than a small boxes of fossils that I had when I was a child.  We began by visiting local retirement communities and it was there where we received our first donation.  A woman approached me after a presentation and she said, 'I see the passion.  This is absolutely amazing,' and she handed me $100.  With that, we bought a T. rex tooth, which then became the largest item in our collection at that time.  We never stopped growing after that."
Since then, Colossal Fossils has visited hundreds of locations throughout the state of Wisconsin, teaching thousands of people in the process.  The organization's collection has grown from that small box of fossils into a portable museum that is capable of filling a school gym.  In 2017, they also set up a semi-permanent museum in downtown Wausau at the Wausau Center Mall as a way of easily teaching more people in Central Wisconsin.  However, Daniels has found that people are coming from long distances to see the collection. "We frequently have visitors from cities like Madison, Eau Claire, and Green Bay who have driven to Wausau specifically to see our museum," he says.
Go back seven years and the founders of Colossal Fossils never dreamed that this organization would cater to so many people.  Originally, it was thought that young children would be the only ones interested in the topic, but those involved in the non-profit were happily proven wrong.  The local retirement communities were the first to latch on to the concept as it provided the residents with a non-traditional means of entertainment.
Daniels reminisces, "I remember an individual approaching me after a presentation, and stating that he was sick and tired of always having the same types of entertainment, namely bingo and musicians.  He loved having a science-oriented talk to change things up a bit."
But this was not the only pleasant surprise that Colossal Fossils has had.  Organizations that cater to individuals with special needs began asking for science presentations too.  The museum in Wausau, specifically, has been visited by many such groups.  "Dinosaurs are a common interest across a very wide range of people with different backgrounds and needs," says Daniels.  "There have been numerous moments, and very beautiful moments, I might add, that have reinforced within me the reason for doing this in the first place."  Some individuals with autism, for example, have found Colossal Fossils to be an outlet that has given them an opportunity to grow and discuss topics that they find extremely interesting.  One autistic gentleman was even a tour guide at the downtown museum for a short period.  For the first time in his life, he had a place where he could feel comfortable sharing his knowledge with others.
After seven years, where does the future of Colossal Fossils lie?
Bigger, more exciting exhibits.  The organization has nearly completed its campaign to raise funds for a 40' Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, the second of its kind in Wisconsin, and the only one located in a small, centrally located city that is easily accessible for people who don't live in the Milwaukee area.  Their traveling programs are also expanding.  This upcoming year is expected to achieve record numbers and reach a record number of people.  The non-profit is gearing up for a statewide tour that will also visit smaller communities that would normally have to drive elsewhere to visit dinosaurs.  Antigo, Merrill, Medford, and Stevens Point are just a few examples of the communities that the dinosaur museum will be visiting.  "It's like the circus is coming to town, except that, instead of acrobats, we have a cave man.  Instead of a camel, we have a wooly mammoth." says Daniels.  "For many communities, it will be the first time that an educational event this large has ever come to town."
After seven years, Daniels has this to say, "I am continuously humbled by the interest people have in what we do.  The donations, grants, and support we have received over the years has allowed us to do many amazing things, both for individuals and communities."
Colossal Fossils' next stop?  Tomorrow, October 16th, begins a three-day tour to visit four schools in southwestern Wisconsin.  The organization will visit towns like Boscobel, Soldiers Grove, Gays Mills, and De Soto, some of which were devastated by flooding this past summer.  "We are giving these kids a chance," finishes Daniels. "A chance to explore something new, something wonderful, something that is more or less inaccessible in the driftless area of Wisconsin.  Most of these kids would never have the opportunity to touch dinosaur bones, let alone see them up close, if it weren't for Colossal Fossils.  This is why we do what we do: To give kids some inspiration and show them how big and amazing this earth truly is."
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Steph Daniels

Stephanie Daniels is the co-founder and vice president of Colossal Fossils, Inc.