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Fossil festival celebrates 25 years in Eastern North Carolina

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The Beaufort County town of Aurora grows exponentially larger this weekend as the annual Aurora Fossil Festival attracts visitors from around the state and across the country.

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BY MACKENZIE TEWKSBURY
The Daily Reflector

Friday, May 25, 2018

GREENVILLE — A town just southeast of Greenville has a population of about 500, but this weekend, more than 25 times that number of people are expected to crowd the streets.

The town, aptly nicknamed Fossil Town, USA, is otherwise known as Aurora. It is home to the Aurora Fossil Museum, which is hosting the 25th annual Aurora Fossil Festival this weekend.

Cynthia Crane, executive director of the museum and co-chair of the event, said she’s looking forward to the milestone celebration.

“It’s exciting and exhilarating to be a part of an event that has happened for a quarter of a century,” she said. “It’s exciting to work with the group and the committee and a great bunch of people who put their heart and soul into the event and the community.”

The museum, founded in 1976, is the houses a wide variety of Miocene and Pliocene marine fossils with most displays showcasing specimens collected from the neighboring Nutrien Phosphate Mine.

The nonprofit museum does not charge admission and relies on volunteers. A donation from Nutrien (formerly Potash-Corp), helps to fund the festival, which spotlights Eastern North Carolina and the affect the museum has on its community.

“I think it just shines a light on a little town that has a unique museum,” Crane said. “I’ve had people say, ‘I’ve heard about the festival but I never went, but oh my gosh, why didn’t I go before this?’”

The festival brings visitors from all over the state and even across the country. The museum has a “50 states campaign,” where it aims to have at least one visitor from all 50 states before the end of the year. That goal was reached it in record time last year – completed in six months. This year, the museum has hosted visitors from 45 states - and is awaiting visitors from Rhode Island, Mississippi, New Mexico, Montana and Nevada.

“There’s just five or six that are left; we’re just waiting,” Crane said. “Hopefully we’ll get that this weekend.”

Visitors are invited to dig for their own fossils, and the festival includes educational experts from the United States Geological Survey and Osearch, a global nonprofit for research on great white sharks. Paleontology lectures are scheduled for 10 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. Saturday.

Crane said there’s no other feeling quite like looking out into a sea of nearly 15,000 people who come to the festival to learn about science and enjoy everything eastern North Carolina has to offer.

“When I walk out of the front of the main museum and I stand on that landing, I watch the parade; the streets are just lined with people,” she said. “That’s such a fulfilling moment.”

The event kicks off at 6 p.m. today with a “fossil master reunion,” or a ceremony to recognize the past and present “fossil masters” of the event. On Saturday, the event runs from 8 a.m. to 10:45 p.m.

There will be a parade, helicopter rides, a veterans breakfast, a fossil 5k, Miss and Mr. Fossil pageants, a fossil auction, carnival rides for children, live music and fireworks. At 11 a.m. Sunday, churches will host a combined church service on the fossil field.

“It’s going to be humongous,” Crane said, “and it’s all to celebrate this little museum that has a tremendous impact.”

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