ELY, Minn. — After decades of researching black bears in the wild, Dr. Lynn Rogers went on the university lecture circuit. He spoke to audiences in many states, and the questions they asked him helped in two ways.

First, he was able to make his presentations reflect what people really wanted to know, and second, he learned what information and displays should go inside the North American Bear Center.

“Wherever I went, I got pretty much the same questions,” said Rogers, founder of the North American Bear Center. “That was the training I needed for what the Bear Center should be.”

A staff member feeds a bear during a tour of the den areas at the North American Bear Center on Sept. 7, 2019. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
A staff member feeds a bear during a tour of the den areas at the North American Bear Center on Sept. 7, 2019. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

Rogers didn’t want to take credit for everything at the Bear Center, so he tried to keep his name low, according to Scott Edgett, senior director of operations at center, “but his 50 years of research that we put up for a display helped to put teeth into everything that is here. The majority of everything you see here is his writing as a scholar.”

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When people visit the North American Bear Center, they want to see the live bears right away, Edgett noted. He said the next thing is many people ask if they can see bears in the wild and where they should go to see them.

“Driving up to Ely, you might see one running across the road,” Edgett said, “but you will rarely see one in the wild if you are hiking, because they run in the opposite direction. People are intrigued that we are surrounded by a lot of bears, but we can never see them.”

Excellent displays of wildlife and birds in the Northwoods Ecology Hall help illustrate the diversity of the forest ecosystem. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
Excellent displays of wildlife and birds in the Northwoods Ecology Hall help illustrate the diversity of the forest ecosystem. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

The Bear Center also deals with other animals that are rarely seen in a beautiful section of the building called the Northwoods Ecology Center. “We bring out some of the reptiles and amphibians during critter time,” Edgett said. “Not everybody gets out in the woods and see that there are blue-spotted salamanders and red-bellied snakes. A lot of these live underneath the leaves, so you just don’t know about them.”

In addition to critter time, the Bear Center schedules what they call “behind-the-scenes-tours” which take visitors to each bear’s private den area. The bear ambassadors spend part of each day in a secluded area and part of the day in a larger enclosure where they are free to roam.

Visitors can see the enclosure and bears from a large window on the first floor, or from a wooden deck on the second floor.

“We want folks to see the bears as close up as they possibly can,” Edgett said. “The biggest part to me is that visitors get educated, want to understand, and at the same time, enjoy themselves to the point that they tell others to come visit here.”

Edgett said the Bear Center is continually working to make the displays more interesting, so that visitors learn as much as possible about the bears and their existence.

He said, “We’d like to give them an experience that is remembered throughout their lives.”

If you go ...

Name: North American Bear Center

Address: 1926 Highway 169, Ely, Minn.

Phone: 218-365-7879, 877-365-7879

Website: bear.org

Email: info@bear.org

Hours: April on weekends, May-October daily, hours vary, see website

Cost: Adults/teens $13, seniors/military $12, 3-12 $8, under 3 free

Update: With new COVID-19 guidelines, the museum will be open to 25% capacity or about 65 people. Staff will be wearing masks and will be cleaning and sanitizing throughout the day.