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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota


Center to seek bonding help for improvements

Keith Vandervort
Posted 9/11/15

ELY – The International Wolf Center is looking to stem the downward trend in the number of visitors to the Ely interpretive center.

A new strategic plan and a state bonding proposal are part of …

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Center to seek bonding help for improvements


ELY – The International Wolf Center is looking to stem the downward trend in the number of visitors to the Ely interpretive center.

A new strategic plan and a state bonding proposal are part of efforts to help ensure the center remains a part of the Ely community, according to executive director Rob Schultz.

He spoke bluntly to City Council members last week about the challenges the center faces to maintain admission revenues and to maintain their educational programs.

This is the 30th anniversary of the founding of the IWC. The center in Ely was developed in the early 1990s.

“While our year started off real strong with admissions,” Schultz said, “we’ve seen a real slump this summer. We are about 7.4 percent down over a year ago, and those numbers are very concerning to us.”

Year-to-date admissions are down about 2.2 percent over last year.

“This is not a complete surprise. We’ve been seeing this trend in admissions over the years. Since 1999, our admissions have been dropping about three percent a year,” he said.

Last year, the IWC introduced a temporary photography exhibit featuring the Northern Lights images of Heidi Pinkerton, of Babbitt. “Our hope was that would help to curb some of that decrease in attendance. It definitely helped,” he said. This year Pinkerton provided her photography of birds of prey for a raptors exhibit.

The IWC introduced a two-day re-entry program to the Ely Interpretive Center. “Visitors purchase their admission wrist band, they can keep it on and return the next day. “We’ve heard lots of positive comments from people who appreciate the opportunity to come back to see wolves and spend as much time as they like watching them.”

Webinars and educational outreach programs have also expanded over the past year. “This is an exciting part of our future and something the board (of directors) is very committed to,” he said.

The Wolf Center is Ely will soon be expanding their wolf care center ahead of the arrival of two Arctic wolf pups next spring. Schultz said they are working with an organization in Quebec, Canada, to help the IWC expand its ambassador wolf pack.

He mentioned that the North American Bear Center in Ely may be getting a new cub next year. “It could be a great year for Ely in tourism. We know that every year when we have wolf pups at the center our tourism in the summer skyrockets.”

The IWC also introduced a new line of clothing to commemorate the center’s 30th anniversary. “It is called ‘wolf wear’ and the clothing features all of our ambassador wolves.”

Schultz also mentioned a collaboration with Ely Safe Ride to provide transportation with some of the tourist packages they offer.

Last year, a federal judge put wolves back on the endangered species list, Shultz said. Wolves remain on the threatened-status list in the state of Minnesota and in most other states they are on the protected-status or endangered-status list. “That has been interesting and challenging for us,” he said. “We are an education organization and not an advocacy organization and we use all these opportunities to teach the public about wolves and the controversies that surround them.”

The IWC has discontinued the aviation education program used to track wolves in the winter with radio-telemetry equipment because of the cost of liability insurance.

Schultz highlighted several changes that have affected IWC membership and financial support, including the changing protected status of wolves. “This clearly demonstrates the need for our work. There is so much confusion out there that the public has about wolves and we can play a critical role in educating the public,” he said.

Changes in technology have helped the organization to overcome accessibility challenges. “Our webinars are a good example of how we can take what is happening here in Ely and share that around the world easily, quickly and very effectively,” he said.

Schultz asked for the council’s support in the IWC’s preparation of a $1.2 million bond proposal with the state of Minnesota. He said the center wants to update the “Wolves and Humans” exhibit that was originally created by the Science Museum of Minnesota in the early 1980s. There have been several new chapters added to the story of wolves, he said.

“We see this update at the wolf center as a very critical need to increase our visitation here in Ely,” he said. “One of the things that we are constantly asked is ‘what’s new?’ We are trying to find new things to put into the center so we can get people coming back. This should set us up very well for the next decade, and will help us extend our mission of education.”

He said the state Senate Capital Investment Committee will tour the Ely Interpretive Center on Sept. 16, and the Department of Natural Resources has given their support to the project.

In addition to seeking more funding for the “Wolves at the Door” outreach program in state metro schools, the IWC is in preliminary discussions with the U.S. Forest Service and DNR to obtain a 14.5-acre land parcel exchange agreement adjacent to the Interpretive Center on the east end of Ely. “This would keep n place a natural barrier behind the center that protects our wolf enclosures,” he said. ‘There is a trail that goes through that area that could cause problems.”

The Wolf Center is also working closely with Ely’s Bear Center to find ways to help both organizations. “We want to get more people coming to our community. We all draw people who are really focused on the environment and animals and working together in promotions can help both organizations.”

The IWC Board of Directors is working on a new strategic plan to ensure the organization’s continued success, Schulz said. “It will outline a growth strategy for our organization now and in the years to come,” he said.

“We are very fortunate to see wolves as frequently as we do here in Ely,” he said. “For most people around the country, they rarely get this opportunity. Some might think we see them too often, but many of those who come to our town hope to see one, but most people don’t. As we see more controversies about wolves, it escalates the public interest in wolves.”