In the end, council made the right and reasonable call on Pillow Rock
For a community of 3,500 people, Ely sure knows how to make news.
We seriously doubt there’s another community our size anywhere in Minnesota that attracts as much state or even nationwide attention as we do.
Some of the reasons are obvious. Ely’s proximity to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, nationally-known attractions such as the International Wolf Center and North American Bear Center, the vast recognition and acclaim as a tourism destination and outdoor hub, and certainly the ongoing and never-ending debate over copper-nickel mining are among the bevy of reasons Ely makes it into The New York Times, on the TODAY Show, or any of numerous other major media outlets.
Small towns across the state, from Eveleth to East Grand Forks, Barnum to Breckenridge, don’t get this type of publicity.
Even Ely’s quirkiness makes news. Look at the annual April Fools Day spoofs coordinated by the Ely Chamber of Commerce and a recent issue that has captivated people locally and beyond: the fate of Pillow Rock.
Television and print reporters made their pilgrimage to Ely earlier this year to report about the strange plan to move a mammoth, 2.7 billion year old piece of rock from its present location to the North American Bear Center.
We’ll admit our curiosity was piqued about this proposal.
Pillow Rock, at least until this year, was one of the community’s best-kept secrets.
A visitor could stumble upon it by accident and even those who know it’s here could have trouble finding it, given its location well off of Ely’s beaten path on inaptly named Main Street.
Clearly, Pillow Rock would be more visible outside the bear museum and council members got the ball moving, or rather the rock rolling, when they agreed this summer to initiate the process for a move.
The logistics were always puzzling and something always seemed a bit off about the plan.
Even though there would be no cost to the city, it was hard to envision just how the rock would be transferred from one spot to the other. It would no doubt have been a photo opportunity that may have put Ely on the front page across Minnesota again.
It seemed a bit unnatural, however. Once you take a piece of history and move it somewhere else, is it still a piece of history? The headframe at Pioneer Mine would probably be more visible in the Twin Cities, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea to move it 250 miles south.
Matters involving government usually move at a snail’s pace and that allowed time to give the proposed move of Pillow Rock another look.
As word spread, opposition mounted and city officials heard about it.
While some council members contend they heard a mixed bag of support, opposition and apathy, others said the message from constituents was loud and clear: that Pillow Rock should stay put.
That was the prevailing sentiment at City Hall in late-September as well, when a public hearing clearly showed more opposition than support for the move.
Until Tuesday, the council had been silent and the plan appeared to fizzle. When no member brought a tabled motion back to life, it was back to square one.
Whether or not it was necessary to re-open the issue remains open to debate, but the council symbolically beat the dead horse this week with its motion that Pillow Rock will stay in its current location “for the foreseeable future.”
The move stomped out the last ashes smoldering from this summer’s proposal and sends a clear message that the moving trucks and giant extraction equipment won’t be necessary.
In the end, the council made what we believe was the right decision. What may have seemed like a good idea really wasn’t once there was time for a closer look and the public had their say.
Some good conversations resulted from the debate and perhaps more can be done to make people aware of the historic piece of greenstone. More and better signs directing visitors to the historic rock is a start, and if funds allow, some general tidying up of the location and perhaps development of more of a park-like area seem like great ideas.
And, thanks to Ely’s penchant for capturing media attention, there’s no doubt more people now know about Pillow Rock.