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A conservation-focused loon education center planned for central Minnesota will immerse visitors in the iconic bird's life and habitat. 

The National Loon Center, a non-profit organization formed in 2017, plans to open the center in Crosslake in 2024. The organization is currently housed at Crosslake Town Square in a small office and visitor's center called "The Nest."

With land secured along the shores of Cross Lake, the organization hopes to receive approximately $11.4 million in federal and state dollars this year to complete fundraising and begin construction in the fall. 

"There's so many rich and deep connections that Minnesotans have formed with loons," Executive Director Jon Mobeck said in an interview with Bring Me The News. "It's a source of state pride and people love to just come into the door and tell us about the loons that they've been watching." 

The three-story center is designed to show visitors life from a loon's point-of-view. A circular stairway, ascending through all three levels, will carry visitors through the exhibits, which each represent a different outdoor environment. 

The first level will be dedicated to loons' lives underwater, explains Mike Pluimer, the center's program operations associate. The second level will focus on nesting and other surface-level activities. Finally, the top level will showcase the skies and the migratory aspect of a loons' life. 

The center will serve as a testament to the beauty and uniqueness of loons, but it will also provide a home base for critical loon and freshwater research, according to Pluimer. 

The organization's loon research is led by the nation's preeminent loon biologist, Dr. Walter H. Piper, according to Mobeck. 

Last year, scientists at the center banded 78 loons and are hoping to band an additional 100 birds this year to be studied for the next 10-20 years. 

Mobeck said the research connects to the National Loon Center's mission to ensure the state bird will remain in Minnesota for generations to come. 

“It’s not inevitable that loons will stay here," he said, adding loons have already shifted away from southern Minnesota due to habitat degradation. "As water quality gets better or worse, they tend to go where the water quality is better or clearer.” 

This summer, the National Loon Center plans to offer boat rides and other conservation programs to showcase loons to Crosslake visitors. 

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