WABASHA — After being closed for three months due to social distancing guidelines for COVID-19, the National Eagle Center will open its doors Thursday.

"It's absolutely essential," said CEO Meg Gammage-Tucker. "What we do is very directly, through our exhibits and our eagle ambassadors, connected to people. It's important to have people come in and see the eagles, and hear their stories."

Like most businesses that have reopened as Gov. Tim Walz has relaxed restrictions through the course of the pandemic, the Eagle Center will open its doors with some limits. Gammage-Tucker said the education attraction will allow groups of up to 50 attendees four times a day – 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. – for 90 minutes at a time. Staff will clean the building in between. Visitors must purchase timed admission tickets online prior to their arrival. Admission prices will remain unchanged, and members will need to present their membership cards when they arrive.

“We are serious about safety and health, and only through a cooperative effort between visitors and staff can we establish and maintain a safe National Eagle Center experience,” Gammage-Tucker said.

That means visitors will be required to wear masks while inside the Eagle Center, and daily classroom programs are unavailable due to social distancing requirements. Guests will be allowed to go into the eagle ambassadors’ display area and are encouraged to bring their own binoculars and scopes for wild eagle viewing during their visit.

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Additionally, a portion of the Preston Cook Collection of eagle artwork and Americana will be on display in the Mississippi Room, she said.

While a maximum of 200 visitors a day would be a slow day most years – Gammage-Tucker said the Eagle Center averages about 700 visitors a day June through September most years – it's a start that could soon be expanded upon. She said the Eagle Center hopes to soon announce that there will be a premium experience offered on Tuesdays and Wednesdays that includes habitat tours and a behind-the-scenes look at the Eagle Center's live birds.

The Eagle Center has been working on some virtual programs for people who want to maintain socially distancing. For now, though, the goal is to start meeting the needs of the public that wants to come see live eagles and learn more about the birds.

"We have people walking up to the doors all the time," Gammage-Tucker said. "We love face-to-face interactions, to have people see these animals in all their majesty."