WABASHA, Minnesota — On the banks of the Mississippi River in Wabasha, the National Eagle Center lives up to its name.
"We are right here in the heart of bald eagle territory," said Ed Hahn, the center's marketing manager. "Back when they were still critically endangered, this location was one of the last places in the lower 48 United States where bird enthusiasts and eagle watchers could come and see a bald eagle in the wintertime."
Every year, the National Eagle Center attracts up to 80,000 visitors from around world.
The center is now preparing for a two-phase, $27 million renovation and expansion. The center will close for phase 1 of renovations at the end of the month.
Phase 1 includes adding more space to care for more eagle ambassadors. The center currently has four eagles — all permanently injured — that serve as ambassadors. The expansion will allow them space for three more.
"That will be really instrumental in us being able to expand the educational outreach we do," Hahn said.
The expansion will also allow them a larger dedicated exhibition space for their Preston Cook collection. Cook donated his multi-million dollar collection to the National Eagle Center. He started his collection of all-things-eagles 55 years ago. It includes more than 25,000 pieces of memorabilia and will be a focal point of the grand reopening.
"It's really going to open up the National Eagle Center experience to audiences that may not have felt a need to come here in the past," Hahn said.
The expansion also includes working with the city of Wabasha to transform the outside of the center. They plan to add an amphitheater and outdoor program and exhibit space. They'll also be improving the dockage along the Mississippi River.
The Prairie Island Indian Community donated $1 million to the project.
"Going to help us with Native American exhibits and exhibitions and really incorporate their culture and their history into the eagle education that we go here as well," Hahn said.
The project also involves four buildings on Main Street. Phase 2 includes a larger indoor auditorium and new entryway.
Judy Cummens, who drove down from the Twin Cities to visit the National Eagle Center, said, "It should be fun to come back to see that."
The National Eagle Center will be closed starting Oct. 25 and is set to reopen in early May.
They will still be offering eagle and tundra swan viewing field trips. The first eagle viewing field trip is on Oct. 30. They also plan on developing other winter programming.