Wolves symbolize the wild in our imaginations, our literature, our movies, and the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minn., brings visitors into close contact with that sense of the wild through their six ambassador wolves.
“Our mission is education, and we want to spread science-based facts about wolves,” said Chad Richardson of Hastings, communications director for the International Wolf Center. “A great way to do that is by having people observe our wolves and see behaviors that they would see in the wild. We love teaching about wolves, and certainly, our ambassadors lead the charge.”
The Wolf Center opened in 1993 and featured an exhibit called “Wolves and Humans” that had been created with the Science Museum of Minnesota. The exhibit was an excellent introduction to wolves, center officials said, and was in place until last year when the Wolf Center underwent a renovation with a grand opening in June.
“Times have changed, and the way people interact with exhibits in museums has changed,” Richardson said. “We were due for an upgrade, and we are super excited about what we have been able to do inside the center. We have a lot more interactivity now.”
The center features programs several times each day in their auditorium which has large class windows looking out at the wolf enclosure. Wolves frequently wander past as the presentations are in progress. Most presentations last 30 minutes, and a full description of the programs available is on the website.
“Each program we offer aims to fill up people’s minds with science,” Richardson said. “That’s something we take seriously. There have been so many myths spread about wolves over the course of the last 100 years, so we are just trying to get facts into people’s heads.”
The International Wolf Center also offers weekend trips to the Boundary Waters, dog sledding trips, and other excursions that provide education about wolves.
“Wolves are a very polarizing animal,” Richardson explained. “There are people who want to save every wolf, and there are people that don’t want any wolves to exist at all.”
Richardson noted that in the early 1900s, wolves were nearly extinguished. On one side, they caused problems for farmers and ranchers. On the other side, environmental groups wanted to protect them for what they bring to the natural balance in the landscape.
“We want people to come away learning a little bit about each side of the issue, and from there, making up their own minds as to what they think the right solution is for wolves. Wolves are the most political animal in the United States, if not the world, and caught in the middle is an animal that just needs some space. All it needs is tolerance. If it has that, it will survive.”
If you go …
Name: International Wolf Center
Address: 1396 Highway 169, Ely, Minn.
Hours: Open Friday through Sunday in winter, Daily during summer. Hours vary and are posted on the website.
Cost: Adults $14, Seniors $12, Children $8, 3 and under free