Inside a lab at Thanksgiving Point’s Museum of Ancient Life, a 9-ton block of rock that contains Utahraptor fossils and untold scientific insights into how the creature lived waits to be worked on.
Utah State Paleontologist Jim Kirkland said he had high hopes for the Utahraptor Project when a team of paleontologists from the Utah Geological Survey began excavating it years ago.
However, funding for the project was cut along with the Utah Geological Survey’s and there’s been little to no progress made.
To help raise money for the necessary equipment and cover costs, Scott Madsen, who would be the lead preparer on the project, launched a gofundme fundraiser late last year. So far the page has raised more than $7,000, which has gone to purchasing equipment.
“We’ve gotten $10 to $1,000 donations from individuals of all ages,” Madsen said. “I don’t know the names of many many people contributing and that indicates there’s a lot of interest. If we tap into the public, there’s some potential of generating some widespread interest in the project.”
The group is offering an incentive of access to a blog where they will share the newest discoveries and information from the experts for those that contribute $25 or more. Madsen said what he suspect lies within the block is unique and would interest a lot of people.
“It’s not as sexy as watching eagles hatch, and I would never compete with that,” he said. “But I think it could offer some really cool stuff.”
Madsen said work stopped on the project in the summer of 2015 after it was delivered to the Thanksgiving Point lab and funding was cut.
The Geological Survey is funded by oil and gas leases, but the money coming in dropped significantly when gas prices decreased. So the Utahraptors sits in the lab waiting to be fully unearthed.
Both Madsen and Kirkland said they’ve already learned quite a few things from the block, which they think was a quicksand trap that caught several Utahraptors at different ages and an iguanodon.
Kirkland said there is a lot of public interest in the project, which the gofundme supports.
“The public interest is real high,” he said. “I get multiple inquiries every day from all over the world. There’s people watching this from China, England and all over that are interested in this project.”
However, the costs for the project are so high that it’s difficult to fund through individual donations of whatever anyone can spare, he said.
“What we are desperately in need of is some corporate sponsors to step up,” Kirkland said. “We have a lot of individuals that have stepped up. It’s nice that we have this many friends around the country and the world that are willing to help us.”
Kirkland has been involved with this project from the beginning when the block was found in Stikes Quarry in southern Utah. He said he’s concerned that if the project doesn’t get funding soon it may never get finished.
“It would just make me sick,” he said. “When the move would be made would be when I’m retiring and I don’t know if anyone would ever push it again.”