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Weekend opening set for expansion of North American Bear Center in Ely

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The North American Bear Center will have a grand opening for a new Northwoods Ecology Hall on Saturday. The expanded education and exhibit space in Ely, which cost $1.5 million, will add 8,000 square feet to showcase bear research to visitors.

The Center's Facebook page invites the public to a 2 p.m. ribbon cutting.

The Duluth News Tribune reports the expansion is part of the vision of Ely bear researcher Lynn Rogers.

Controversy has surrounded Rogers, the founder of the nonprofit facility, as his methods for studying bears have come under fire. But his desire for a larger center for visitors who want to learn more about wildlife in Minnesota's north woods has been without conflict.

"It expands the North American Bear Center into more of the world of the black bear here — the habitat, the animals they interact with. It's not just about bears; it tells about the other animals too," Rogers told the newspaper.

The expansion includes the Hope Learning Center, named for the bear cub Hope who millions began watching on the Internet in 2010.

The center, which first opened its doors in 2007, will also have an expanded exhibit that includes a replica of the northwoods habitat showing young and old forests and the changing seasons, with animals stuffed by taxidermists on display. In addition to a 10-foot aquarium, a terrarium houses snakes, turtles, frogs and salamanders.

At the time the expansion was announced, Northland's News Center noted many of the animals on display will be "experienced through a bear's perspective."

The habitat also includes the sound of the woods accompanied by photos and videos. In addition to a 10-foot aquarium, a terrarium houses snakes, turtles, frogs and salamanders.

“The worldwide attention we’re seeing is fantastic,” Ely Mayor Chuck Novak said on the center's Facebook page. “It’s a big boost to our economy having visitors here from all over the world.”

The grand opening of the ecology hall coincides with the annual Lilypad Picnic Weekend which takes place in Ely July 17-19. Hundreds of visitors pack Ely’s hotels, motels and restaurants for the event.

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