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A Mosasaur skeleton is displayed on a wall along with small replicas at the dinosaur museum in West Fargo. Dave Wallis/The Forum

Discovery Museum marks first anniversary

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If you're interested in learn more about dinosaurs and fossils, Gary Olson, also known as the "Dinoguy" is the person to talk to. The self-taught paleontologist leads archeological digging parties to a quarry site in West Central South Dakota during the summer months in between running his natural history museum and store in West Fargo.

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Over 2,000 bones have been taken out of the quarry site where he brings his digging parties. Olson says it is common to find Tyrannosaurus Rex bones and teeth and Duckbill bones, along with an odd mixture of unexpected bones and fossils that aren't always so easily identifiable, often just as interesting.

"Most of the bones are all busted up and cracked. They're not beautiful. But you can't miss them. There's so many that anyone can find bones at the site," Olson said.

Olson, owner of Dinosaurs and More, and the Discovery Museum, located at 705 Main Ave. E., in West Fargo, has a lot to celebrate this month. The Discovery Museum celebrated its first anniversary last week. The museum opened last year, with its grand opening on Nov. 10. His adjacent store, Dinosaurs and More, will mark its second anniversary today. The store opened on November 20, 2006.

Olson is excited about all of the projects he envisions for the museum. First on his list is to reconstruct his T Rex so museum visitors will be able to view the magnificent dinosaur in its natural upright position. When completed, the T-Rex's head will reach 11 feet high, and its body and tail will span about 40 feet. The exhibit will serve as the focal point of the museum, The T Rex bones are currently on display in an impressive exhibit that captures everyone's eye as soon as they enter the museum, but Olson is anxious to give patrons a more accurate view of how big the dinosaurs really were.

Another exhibit that draws a lot of attention is the crocodile skull collection. The collection includes a replica of a Supercroc skull, nicknamed for the Sarcosuchus Imperator (flesh-eating crocodile), which was one of the largest crocodiles ever to walk the earth. Supercrocs lived over 100 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. The giant crocodile could grow to an estimated body length of 40 feet, with a skull over 5 feet long. There is also a replica of a scull of a Dwarf Crocodile (known as the Osteolaemus tetrapis). This evolutionary link between prehistoric dinosaur-like reptiles and present day birds is the smallest known species of the crocodilians, growing up to about six feet long.

Exhibit cases on wheels for easy mobility, which now showcase a broad collection of prehistoric fossils, dinosaur teeth, jaw bones, natural minerals and rocks, will be strategically stationed around the T Rex exhibit, with plaques or descriptive narratives to help make self-guided tours easier. Olson's goal is to eventually be able to rotate exhibits and offer his customers access to traveling exhibits as they become available in the area.

The Discovery Museum operates as a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization and relies heavily on donations to defray operating costs. Olson is in the process of developing new incentives to increase sponsorship from businesses and individuals. Individual, family, group, or business memberships are available, or individual exhibits or specimens can be adopted for a minimal fee each month. Businesses and individuals who adopt a specimen will receive a certificate with their name on it that can be displayed showing that they are supporting the museum.

An average of five to ten groups schedule tours through the museum each month, with preschools, after school programs like the YMCA and YWCA, elementary schools, home schooled students, and Cub Scouts among the museum's most frequent customers. Students enjoy digging for their own replica treasures buried in troughs, go on scavenger hunts, or observe fossils or skulls being cleaned in the viewable Dinosaur Prep Lab. Birthday parties are also offered at the museum.

The Discovery Museum and Dinosaurs and More store are open year around, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays through Saturdays, and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. Olson runs the museum, while his sister, Shelley St. Aubin manages the store. As a former science teacher, Olson feels the store compliments the museum well, offering educational toys, maps, and books along with a wide assortment of rocks, gems, fossils and casts for students to purchase to help them learn more about what they have seen on their visit to the museum.

To find out more information, or to schedule a tour, call 701-277-0809.

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