By Natasha Bartolotta, National Loon Center
The National Loon Center arose as an ambitious idea proposed by citizens of Crosslake, Minnesota in 2016. In the formative years since, our founders and board of directors have worked passionately to move the vision for a world-class educational facility toward reality.
With the invaluable help of countless community supporters, tireless researchers, and dedicated volunteers, the National Loon Center achieved many goals in 2021 to have one loon of a year!
- May 2021: Initiated a vigorous research study of Minnesota loons
The NLC established a partnership with the Loon Project to initiate a study on the behavioral ecology and population dynamics of common loons in Minnesota. The purpose of this study is to determine if similar patterns are found in Minnesota, enabling us to make better projections for the future of our state bird. Our hope is that this scientific research will inform critical conservation efforts to prevent the loon from becoming endangered in the land of 10,000 lakes.
2. May 2021: Facilitated research on loon mortality
To better prevent loon mortality, we need to understand why loons die. The NLC obtained state and federal migratory bird permits to transport deceased loons found on Minnesota lakes to Dr. Arno Wuenschmann, professor of Veterinary Pathology at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, who performed the loon necropsy studies. Sadly, we found that loons had perished from lead poisoning, gun shots, and probable collisions with boats or jet skis.
3. May 2021: Protected critical loon nesting habitat in Fifty Lakes, MN
With funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund and additional support from the Fifty Lakes Fire Relief Association, the NLC acquired approximately 6 acres of land with over 2,500 feet of shoreline in Fifty Lakes. This land consists of largely undisturbed aquatic and riparian habitat that supports nesting loons and other wildlife. The pristine lakes that are protected in part by the acquired land are among the most significant loon nesting areas in the region, with at least 7 pairs of loons occupying the lakes; two of which nest in the bays directly alongside the NLC’s newly purchased land.
4. June 2021: Opened The Nest
Before our state-of-the-art facility opens in 2024, we will engage and educate the public at a visitor center in Crosslake Town Square called The Nest. The Nest has already expanded awareness considerably, bringing in more than 4,000 visitors from June through November to learn about loons, lakes, and the NLC. This prominent storefront location enabled the NLC to showcase the forthcoming world-class facility, highlight its current programs and outreach efforts, and significantly expand its network of supporters and donors — critical for long-term operational sustainability. The Nest fosters community connections and hosts a mural by local wildlife photographer, Mark Harlow, realistic loon wood carvings by Laurie J. McNeil, and the Lenny the Loon book series by Mikaela Casey. We also had fun hosting an inaugural loon calling competition at the Town Square in September.
5. June 2021: Engaged in statewide partnerships
Our conservation efforts are elevated by the partnerships we’ve formed across Minnesota and the country. We are proud to join the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in advancing the Get the Lead Out program. We delivered presentations to dozens of lake associations and community groups this summer as well as hosting a lead tackle drop off site at The Nest, which also provided visitors with free nontoxic tackle samples. We are also pleased to work with companies who prioritize conservation ethics in their business models, such as Velaasa. This year, Velaasa released a special loon edition of their Raptor athletic shoes that sends a donation towards the NLC with each pair sold.
6. August 2021: Received grants to launch the Floating Classroom
A grant from the Crosslake Ideal Lions Club helped support the launch of the Floating Classroom education program and allowed the NLC to purchase a 31' tri-toon boat. Participants will see loons from a respectful distance and learn about loon and freshwater ecology through hands-on scientific projects. A curriculum for a two-hour, on-the-lake educational program was designed with assistance from University of Minnesota graduate students. An additional grant from the Land & Waters Preservation Trust enabled the NLC to purchase water testing equipment, sample kits, and safety and mooring equipment.
7. November 2021: Hired two additional staff members
Our accomplishments this summer could not have been possible without the help and support of our wonderful volunteers and board members. The NLC was excited to add to its staff by hiring Natasha Bartolotta as the Communications and Outreach Coordinator and Mike Pluimer as the Program Operations Associate. From the establishment of The Hoot e-newsletter to the creation of an array of top-notch educational materials, Natasha and Mike have already made significant contributions to the organization.
8. November 2021: Began site enhancements at NLC’s future home
Our world-class facility will open in 2024 at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — Cross Lake Recreation Area in Crosslake, MN. We are thankful to our lead architectural and engineering partner, Widseth, and MN Boardwalks for the completion of sidewalks, boardwalks, and floating mooring stations. These stations will provide safe lake access to the recreating public and NLC visitors while protecting the shoreline from erosion. These improvements are made possible by the Minnesota Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund. Additional site enhancements are forthcoming, as NLC also worked with Widseth to create outdoor exhibits featuring interactive video content and infographics that are set to be installed at the site in the spring of 2022.
9. November 2021: Completed shoreline restoration project
Shoreline along Cross Lake near the popular campground has degraded over decades due to heavy boat and foot traffic. Native vegetation has been planted to restore and maintain the shoreline ecosystem, providing habitat for native species to return. The restoration effort also anticipated visitor needs and the boardwalks and mooring stations are designed to improve the visitor experience while protecting the shoreline.
10. December 2021: Coordinated with DNR and fire department on loon rescue
After receiving a tip from local photographer, Mark Harlow, that a loon might be iced-in on Cross Lake, the National Loon Center engaged regional winter rescue experts as well as the Minnesota DNR and Crosslake Volunteer Fire Department to consider a rescue attempt. The Crosslake Fire Department ultimately captured the iced-in loon and it was transported to the Wild and Free wildlife rehab center in Garrison, MN for examination. Unfortunately, the loon had an untreatable wing injury likely resulting from a boat strike. With significant media attention surrounding loon rescues in northern Minnesota, the National Loon Center wrote a comprehensive and well-received educational piece on the complexities of loon rescues. The Cross Lake loon brought awareness towards safe boating practices and loon protection efforts. With many state and national partners, we aim to connect and strengthen loon rescue and rehab networks in 2022.
The National Loon Center is making great strides toward its goal of being a home for nationally significant loon and freshwater research and education. While we are eager to continue moving forward in the coming year, we use these final days of 2021 to reflect on our progress and pause to express our gratitude to all who have pitched in. We’re excited to move into a new year knowing that our impact will grow quickly along with our developing footprint.
If you wish to contribute toward our efforts to protect loons and freshwater ecosystems in 2022, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the National Loon Center: www.nationallooncenter.org/national-loon-center-foundation.
Happy New Year!