City backs Wolf Center request
Museum looks for $2.1 million from state for facility improvements
by Tom Coombe
Officials at the International Wolf Center have been patient - and persistent - in a bid to make long-sought improvements at the museum just outside of Ely.
They’ve lined up support from area legislators and the city council got on board Tuesday, endorsing the IWC’s request for $2.1 million in state funds.
One of the area’s major attractions, the IWC has come up empty the last several years in bids for money to replace a failing roof and make other major infrastructure repairs.
Grant Spickelmier, the IWC’s executive director, told council members this week that the organization is “retooling our ask.”
“It’s a little bit more (than previously requested),” Spickelmier explained. “It’s now $2.1 million after we looked back at our numbers and looked at inflation for construction costs.”
Funding could come from a state bonding bill or legislation advanced through the State Senate’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, where it has the backing of State Sen. Grant Hauschild (D).
In the Minnesota House of Representatives, State Rep. Roger Skraba (R) of Ely is lending his support.
Spickelmier said “our roof has been in failure, with major leaking and ice dam issues, and there are other significant issues, with the HVAC system and boilers going down. It happens when you have 30-year-old infrastructure.”
Council members went on record in support of the IWC request without dissent, passing a motion on a 6-0 vote with Paul Kess absent.
“I think you explained how important it is to our community and our state,” said council member Al Forsman. “It’s hard not to get behind.”
Spickelmier’s request followed a presentation by Krista Woerheide, interpretive center director at the Ely facility.
Woerheide said “2023 was a big year for the Wolf Center,” describing strong attendance and “a lot of improvements to our facility that keep our visitors coming and keep them coming to our town.”
It included a new Arctic wolf ecosystem exhibit.
“We work pretty hard so that things are updated and new so visitors who are coming for an annual visit have something to see,” said Woerheide.
The IWC continues to offer educational programming to schools across the state and beyond, generating publicity about the facility and for Ely and even attracting some visitors.
Woerheide described a student who took part in a center online educational program “who was so excited about it he and his family made the trek to Ely, stayed for a week and visited the Wolf Center.”
The IWC has made improvements in accessibility, even making iPads available to check out during visits and offering numerous videos with American Sign Language.
New cameras have improved security and include three that are broadcast to the public, showing off ambassador wolves to those who tune in and have been featured on Twin Cities television stations.
The IWC is also making efforts to expand its outreach into the Ely community, partnering with the Ely School District and sponsoring the purchase of shot clocks that were installed in both the high school gymnasium and in the gymnasium housed in the new addition to the school campus.
“We were very happy to be part of that with our local school,” said Woerheide.