National Loon Center StewardShip in Crosslake serves 439 people in 2022 – Pine and Lakes Echo Journal

CROSSLAKE – Changing leaves and cooling temperatures are another sign of the onset of fall; they are alerting lake area residents that loons from the northern lakes will soon be leaving for warmer southern waters. The fall migration of loons was a key topic aboard the National Loon Center’s StewardShip during the final weeks of its public excursions on Cross Lake, which ran through September 24. Beginning in late August, passengers aboard the boat observed the change in the appearance of adult loons as they began to transition into their winter plumage.

The free public tours ran from July 21 to September 24. A private workshop, “Minnesota Loons & Freshwater Ecosystem,” led by the NLC and the Northern Waters Land Trust on July 13 was the first time members of the public came on board. The last field trip of the season took place on September 29 with 14 high school students from the Isle School District as part of their wildlife and natural resources class. Other private groups included participants from Camp Knutson, various lake associations, Wounded Warriors, and teachers from Crosslake Community School for water-based training as part of the DNR’s WET Project. In total, the StewardShip went on the water for 23 public excursions and 14 private tours, for a total of 37 trips on Cross Lake. These trips totaled 439 people who participated in this hands-on learning experience.

A banded loon joins its mate and chicks on Cross Lake as the StewardShip watches during the 2022 summer program.

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“We were thrilled to see the StewardShip run so successfully in its inaugural season,” said general manager Jon Mobeck. “It was hugely popular and the feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive in terms of the educational value of the tour.”

For many people, this was the first opportunity to observe Minnesota’s state bird in such an up-close and scientific way. An onboard naturalist, either one of the three NLC staff members or a volunteer MN Master Naturalist, led the tours and provided insightful information on loon behavior. An important component of the program was the link between the loon population and the quality of freshwater lakes. The tour usually ended at a designated water clarity testing location where participants had the opportunity to measure the transparency of the water using a secchi disc. This data will be submitted to the voluntary water quality monitoring program through the MPCA for addition to a statewide water quality testing database. This type of on-water learning is unique to the Northwoods and is something the National Loon Center was proud to offer free to the public.

From its July 21 launch until its last outing, the StewardShip watched loon chicks on Cross Lake grow up through the summer, from tender times when parents fed young chicks small fish to first flights of birds. enthralling training from up close with fledgling juveniles. Some participants on board witnessed more exhilarating events such as the territorial fight between the territory’s new resident male “Happy Bay” and an intruding loon. All passengers had the opportunity to use the provided binoculars to identify individual loons by the colored bands on their legs. Banding loons is a key part of the National Loon Center’s research on common loons, which began in 2021. Through this study, the NLC has identified eight loon territories on Cross Lake. Five of these pairs of resident loons have been seen regularly along the StewardShip’s 2-hour route, with three pairs having two chicks. A sixth pair of loons was often seen which had nested on the channel of Daggett Lake and brought their chick to Cross Lake as they grew.

The 31-foot tritoon boat was acquired in 2021 with a $40,000 grant from the Crosslake Ideal Lions Club. It was renamed Floating Classroom StewardShip in early 2022 by the volunteer committee, the Northern Lakes Initiative. Safety equipment, life jackets and educational materials, including water testing equipment, were purchased with a $4,000 grant from the Land & Waters Preservation Trust. In the spring of 2022, the NLC received an additional $5,000 grant from Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund to help support the launch of the program for its first season.

StewardShip embarks from the bay of Cross Lake Recreation Area.png
In the summer of 2022, the StewardShip escorted 439 passengers on a voyage to observe and learn about the common loon.

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The National Loon Center aims to restore and protect loon breeding habitats, enhance responsible recreation, and serve as a national leader in advancing loon and freshwater research. NLC’s world-class facility is scheduled to open to the public in 2024 and will be an interactive, family-friendly educational destination. To support the mission of the National Loon Center, please visit www.nationallooncenter.org

About Thomas Thorton

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