One of the Crosslakers’ most ambitious projects - the National Loon Center - has been in the local and statewide news a lot recently. By now you may have read that the idea, first proposed by Father Ryan Moravitz, has gained incredible momentum and funding.

This year the Minnesota Legislature approved $4 million in funding for the center from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). The governor signed the legislation, which means that $1.5 million will be available over the next few months to start designing and building the shoreline restoration project with docks and boardwalks, outdoor exhibits and to plan curriculum for the center.

The National Loon Center Foundation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have an agreement to enable the center to be located on the Corps Campgrounds.

Organizers are about to launch a one-year, $6 million fundraising campaign to make the project a reality.

What many people think about when they think of the loon center is the new, 15,000-square-foot building in town, the thousands of visitors it will attract to Crosslake and the positive impact it will have for tourism and the local economy. Well, all of that is great.

But it really misses the main point.

The loon center’s primary intent is to help us all learn to appreciate and protect our state bird, the common loon, and to teach us how to restore and clean up our precious lakes.

That’s where the Northern Lakes Initiative comes in. As part of the loon center program, the National Loon Center Foundation and the University of Minnesota Extension Service are working together to develop ways to educate the public about the relationship between loons and the waters they live in. Crosslaker John Forney will head up the effort.

“As it turns out, what the loons really need is what people need - clear and clean water,” Forney said.

A number of volunteer organizations have been preaching this message for years, but now perhaps they (via the loon center) can turn to the common loon to make the point for them.

The initiative begins with the fall semester when a graduate student will be tasked with working on a curriculum to tell the story of the loons and their habitat that can be easily understood by audiences ranging from young children to older adults who will be visiting the loon center.

During the second semester, a second grad student will study the curriculum and develop recommendations for a variety of media to deliver stories. Kiosks, signage, demonstrations, videos and other media will be used to explain the relationship between the loons and their habitat.

“Hopefully, this time next year, we will be able to have a hands-on experience available to visitors even though the loon center building will not have been built,” Forney said.

Work this summer may include building new trails, docks and site work that could lend itself to the type of experiences that Forney is referencing.

Forney said 70% of the population of animals in freshwater environments have disappeared. He said projects like the loon center are critical educational efforts to help reverse this trend.

Job postings have gone up to find the grad student for the fall semester. Forney hopes to find a student with a background in biology or a similar science background with a passion for the environment and the northern lakes.