For Emily Durand, the National Eagle Center, perched on the Mississippi River in Wabasha, Minn., is a local and national treasure.

On Wednesday, Durand, 39, who serves on the center’s board, hopped onto a bus with her 8-year-old daughter to take that message to the State Capitol in St. Paul.

Durand’s family visits the attraction several times a year. Her daughter celebrated her sixth birthday there, and she suspects her 4-year-old son will have his sixth birthday there too. “The kids probably love the Eagle Center more than I do,” she said.

They were joined in the Capitol rotunda by neighbors, schoolchildren, eagle fans and even a live eagle, all in support of the $1.5 billion bonding bill that Gov. Mark Dayton introduced in January that includes $10.19 million to expand the center. The Legislature has until May to vote on the bill.

“We were thrilled to be in the governor’s recommendation,” said the center’s executive director, Rolf Thompson. “I think that’s recognition of the fact that the National Eagle Center is really an economic development project.”

Dayton’s recommendation came in response to the center’s bonding request for $9.6 million. The request was sponsored by the city of Wabasha, which wants to use some of the project money to improve the city’s river docks.

For some years, the center has been mapping out an expansion that would allow it to house more live eagles, presentations and a 20,000-item collection from California real estate agent Preston Cook, Thompson said.

“It’s an amazing, world-class museum collection of depictions of eagles throughout American history and culture,” Thompson said. “It’s [been] waiting in storage for our expansion.”

The center’s board estimates that the expansion will cost $18 million, said board member John Wodele, who served as mayor of Wabasha from 1973 to 1979. A private campaign is underway to raise $8 million to complement the bonding bill money.

“Right now, we’re concentrating mostly on people who have supported us through the years,” Wodele said. Once the Legislature votes and the center knows how to proceed, it will launch a full-blown campaign, he said.

The center counted 83,000 visitors last year, Thompson said, a number that has been steadily increasing since it moved into its current building in 2007.

Rep. Barb Haley and Sen. Mike Goggin, both R-Red Wing, also attended the rally.

“For a community the size of Wabasha, some 2,000 people, it’s a tremendous economic development,” Haley said of the Eagle Center.

If the bill is approved, the center will start designing the expansion immediately and begin breaking ground as soon as 2019, Thompson said.

“This is not a local project in terms of its impact and influence,” he said. “It’s the National Eagle Center. Here in Minnesota.”


Emily Allen is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.