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Wabasha hopes tourists flock to local wildlife attraction.

With the building of the National Eagle Center, Wabasha, Minn. hopes to capitalize on one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry--nature tourism--and use a wildlife attraction as an anchor for downtown revitalization.

The community of 2,500 population on the banks of the upper Mississippi River is winter home to hundreds of bald eagles. Bordering on one of the nation's largest National Wildlife Refuges, Wabasha offers one of the best eagle-watching locations in the lower 48 states. Approximately 10,000 visitors come each year to see the wintering birds sit in the cottonwood trees and soar over the river to catch fish.

The city expects to break ground this fall for the $3 million environmental education facility and has contracted with a locally-based non-profit conservation group, EagleWatch, Inc., to manage it.

Begun in 1989 as a committee of the Wabasha Chamber of Commerce, EagleWatch was incorporated in 1996. The chamber was seeking to encourage winter tourism and keep retail businesses viable by focusing on the eagles and their habitat.

As is the case with many small, rural towns, Wabasha's young residents are moving away and its downtown has many empty storefronts. The community has a tourist-based economy, but only during the summer months.

By constructing the center, Wabasha hopes to extend the tourist season and build on an asset, said City Administrator Chad Shryock.

Since 1991, EagleWatch volunteers trained by the University of Minnesota Raptor Center have staffed a city-built downtown observation deck on Sunday afternoons from November through March.

The following year, the group instituted an annual Soar With the Eagles day. About 1,000 attended this year's celebration, held on March 22. Participants enjoyed a slide-illustrated lecture and met a hand-held bird up close while watching Wabasha's winter denizens put on their annual nuptial displays overhead.

EagleWatch also presents educational programs and tours for local schools and organizations and tourists.

The city council has authorized a 99-year lease for the six-acre City Beach Park site and approved a bond issue to fund the project.

The city has made a $1 million funding commitment, and the state of Minnesota had pledged $450,000.

EagleWatch Executive Director Heidi Hughes expects the viewing and educational center to open in December, 1999.

Details: Chad Shryock at (612) 565-4568
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Title Annotation:planned National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN
Author:Turner, Laura
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Apr 6, 1998
Words:379
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