New pups a hit at Wolf Center
by Tom Coombe
For the second straight year, the International Wolf Center welcomed new pups.
Rieka’s arrival in 2021, which coincided with the easing of Covid-19 restrictions and resulted in attendance more than doubling at the local museum, was only the beginning.
Instead of taking a year or two off from welcoming new pups, the IWC instead introduced Blackstone and Caz to its ambassador pack.
“Over the winter we lost two of our older wolves, Denali and Grizzer, (and) we decided we needed to bring in some fresh blood,” said Grant Spickelmier, IWC Executive Director. “It’s the first time in the history of the organization where two summers in a row we brought in pups. ”
Despite that, attendance of just shy of 23,000 from June through August fell short of 2021 levels, which totaled 25,893.
Yet this year total is still double the attendance at the museum during 2020, at the height of the pandemic, and Spickelmier said attendance rebounded during the fall.
Spickelmier, who presented an annual report to the city council this week, said the slight decline in attendance this summer meshed with reports from other area attractions - including the North American Bear Center and Dorothy Molter Museum.
“It seems to be connected with inflation and gas prices,” said Spickelmier.
The impacts of the economy also made a dent in souvenir sales at the IWC.
The new pups proved to be a hit with those who passed through the turnstiles at the museum, and Blackstone and Caz were described as “full of energy” and still growing. Both weigh about 80 pounds and should grow to about 110.
Spickelmier said the IWC had an active year on the educational front, making more in-person appearances at schools after doing remote presentations during the pandemic.
Every four years, the IWC also hosts an international wolf symposium, and this year’s event was held in the Twin Cities suburb of Brooklyn Park, attracting 462 people form 19 countries and 41 states.
“It’s basically a conference of the world’s most impressive wolf scientists and managers,” said Spickelmier.
About 100 symposium participants made a day trip to the Ely museum.
“I can tell you everybody who came here just loved their time up here,” said Spickelmier. “We did a crazy thing where we get on the bus at six in the morning, ride four hours up here, spend four hours here and then turn around and go back.”
Mayor Roger Skraba asked about the possibility of hosting the symposium in Ely.
Spickelmier responded that while participants “would love the proximity to the center,” there are challenges including accommodations for 450 participants as well as transportation obstacles.
The IWC continues to pursue state bonding money to make facility improvements. One of the major components of the project is an overhaul of the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, to the tune of about $475,000.
Another big-ticket item is a $400,000 plan to replace the museum’s roof.