While awaiting construction of the National Loon Center in Crosslake, a place called The Nest opened in Crosslake Town Square where volunteers share information about loons and the loon center, and sell T-shirts and sweatshirts to visitors.

The loon center is being constructed at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cross Lake Recreation Area in an effort to protect the common loon and educate people about the state bird and what can be done for its benefit. However, much of the work has to be on hold for the time being.

“We expect that we will begin to install the docks, the morning stations in the fall,” said Jon Mobeck, executive director of the loon center who works at The Nest. “So the first tangible kind of evidence of our progress will be those - those docks and the boardwalks that are associated with them. We will also do some shoreline restoration near where those docks are at the Army Corps site.”

Jon Mobeck, executive director of the National Loon Center in Crosslake, points to an architectural rendering of the future loon center that will be built at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Recreation Area on Friday, July 9, at The Nest, located in Crosslake Town Square. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal
Jon Mobeck, executive director of the National Loon Center in Crosslake, points to an architectural rendering of the future loon center that will be built at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Recreation Area on Friday, July 9, at The Nest, located in Crosslake Town Square. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

Mobeck, who became the loon center’s director in January, said much of the loon center’s work has to be put on hold in the summer so as not to disrupt the goings-on of the Corps of Engineers campground during its busiest time of the year.

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“We don’t want to interrupt the summer for the campground by trying to do construction-related things,” Mobeck said. “As you know, that campground is really busy in the summer … so Sept. 15 is when we kind of get going again.”

That said, a few loon center-specific attractions are soon to be in place for tourists and residents, as the center’s first two exterior exhibits should be nearing completion.

“Our first exhibit that features loon calls will be out at the intersection of Highway 66 and 3, right as you enter into that recreation area,” Mobeck said. “It will be an interactive exhibit featuring the meaning behind certain loon calls.”

Looking past 2021, Mobeck and staff have several projects ongoing, including the construction of the loon center itself, which is expected to be open to the public in the spring of 2024.

“We still need to raise significant funds to complete the building … But fundraising is going well,” Mobeck said. “We're rapidly increasing our distribution of donors, and we continue to seek a few major partners to kind of get us over the goal line.”

Ann Reid, a volunteer at The Nest, welcomes visitors to the National Loon Center's information center located in Crosslake Town Square on Friday, July 9. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal
Ann Reid, a volunteer at The Nest, welcomes visitors to the National Loon Center's information center located in Crosslake Town Square on Friday, July 9. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

The Nest, which acts as an informational visitor hub for the loon center, is another recent project.

"The Nest helps us to showcase what's coming, but also talk about the existing current programs and obviously give people a chance to purchase merchandise that helps support the organization,” Mobeck said. “It's a little bit of a combination of a retail space and a showroom, as it were, for the eventual center. So for anybody who has questions, that is a good thing for them.”

At the moment, The Nest is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and features a number of artistic renderings of the future center. Staff and volunteers are on hand to discuss the progress of the center and answer any questions.

“So far, the traffic has been fantastic,” Mobeck said. “We've had great sales - about $6,000 worth of merchandise over our first six days - so we are really happy with that. It has been great to provide a visible kind of location for people to come who want to learn more about (the project).”

Another ongoing endeavor is the “Loon Lab on Gull Lake,” which will occur every other Friday and began Friday, June 25. It is done in partnership with the Gull Lake Sailing Club.

Visitors enter The Nest in Crosslake, the National Loon Center's information center, on Friday, July 9, 2021. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal
Visitors enter The Nest in Crosslake, the National Loon Center's information center, on Friday, July 9, 2021. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

“We had about 10 folks on the pontoon for that,” Mobeck said. “It is kind of a basic, entry-level course about loon ecology, loon behavior, freshwater ecosystem preservation, proper shoreline stewardship and conservation.”

The course also discusses information like aquatic invasive species, certain diseases affecting loons and some human-caused hazards to the birds like lead fishing tackle and fishing line entanglement.

Those looking to donate or find more information are encouraged to visit nationallooncenter.org.

Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or dan.determan@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.