CROSSLAKE, Minn. — The National Loon Center planned in Crosslake overcame one of its most significant hurdles — the passage of a $4 million grant to be allocated for a project billed as a boon for conservation efforts and environmental tourism in the region.
“A couple of years ago when I was asked if I would be interested in serving as the house chair for the Legislative Citizens Commission this project wasn’t even on my radar,” Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, who’s championed the project, said in an email. “But it didn’t take long for me to see the potential and now I’m super excited that the Loon Center (is) moving forward.”
Heintzeman serves on the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, which voted to include the $4 million grant into budget talks this legislative session. Heintzeman declined to comment in an interview and instead opted for an email exchange.
In his email, Heintzeman alluded to further efforts to see the National Loon Center become a reality. With $4 million secured in state funding, the remaining $6 million of the total $10 million price tag will have to be acquired by other means — whether that’s donations, federal grants, restitution from federal cases, backing from the private sector or other sources of funding.
Though, that doesn’t mean lakes area residents won’t see tangible progress for the facility.
“Without a state level commitment matching dollars wouldn’t be available so the 4 million-dollar LCCMR grant is absolutely critical … ” Heintzman wrote. He added, “Before LCCMR money can be released, a commitment at the federal level must be made firm. That’s coming along well and we expect the docks and boardwalk could begin sometime in the next month or so.”
Plans call for a 15,000-square-foot facility to be constructed, housing the Freshwater Institute, Crosslake Chamber of Commerce offices, interactive exhibits and multipurpose rooms for the community. Piers will expand beyond the building into the bay, offering viewing and education opportunities. In addition, visitors will be able to take bike rides and collect water samples for testing back at the center.
The center is intended to restore and protect loon habitats, promote and enhance outdoor recreation, and be a leader in research and education related to migratory wildlife, a news release stated. Once completed, the center would use gift and admission sales, educational programming and donations to bankroll ongoing operations.
It has been lauded by supporters as bearing the potential to draw 40,000 to 70,000 or more people to the Brainerd lakes area annually, based on comparisons to other similar facilities already active throughout the state.
“I’m very excited to see the Loon Center becoming a reality,” Heintzeman wrote. “I’m especially excited to see that happening without a direct tax payer cost. Between Deepwater Horizon settlement money, lottery money (LCCMR), and public and private partnerships we’re well on our way.”