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National Eagle Center book: eagles, memories, history

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A Vision Takes Flight

WABASHA — Cold winter winters rampaging down the Mississippi River Valley, temperatures around zero, and eagles on the ice, in the trees, in the air.

Oh, the memories the new book, "A Vision Takes Flight," by C.J. Jacobson and Peg Bauernfiend, brought back.

The book tells the history of the first 25 years of the National Eagle Center that began as EagleWatch, a way to help people see and learn about bald eagles spending much of their winter in and around Wabasha. It would later expand to become the center only a few feet from where the original viewing platform stood. People can now view eagles from the comfort of the center.

I remember those first cold years when Mary Rivers was a one-woman dynamo to keep EagleWatch going. I did a lot of stories about the effort, watched a lot of eagles and was amazed to see how well the bald eagles have come back.

I still remember Rivers telling me how, when she grew up in Alma, Wis., the expectation was that eagles would some day be gone from the river because they were dying out. The culprit was DDT and human intrusions, but with DDT gone and people more aware of eagles, the birds have made a magnificent comeback.

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That story is the first thing mentioned in the chapter on Rivers.

Much of the book goes on to lay out the history of the center, its growing pains and the relentless push to raise money for it. It's a story of perseverance and faith that Wabasha could pull it off, that it needed it to bring more people to the town along the Mississippi.

If you're not interested in that history, then the final part of the book might be for you. If gives many details about the bald eagle, and also about the golden eagle that was once thought to be a rarity in the Mississippi River valley, blown in from out west.

Scott Mehus wasn't sure about those golden eagles. He's head of education for the center, and with his questioning known "facts" and a lot of hard work, along with radio-collaring some eagles, he proved the goldens spend their summers in the Arctic area or around Hudson Bay. They are a completely different bird from the western birds and there are hundreds of them in the blufflands of southeastern Minnesota, southwestern Wisconsin and northeastern Iowa.

I've written several stories about goldens, and have seen several in the heart of the Whitewater Valley but didn't know all that's in the book.

And finally, the book unabashedly praises the bald eagle, giving many people stories about seeing them, and the effect they have on people.

Related Topics: MISSISSIPPI RIVER
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