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'A project of the heart'

MaryBeth Garrigan isn't shy about her feelings when she looks at the new brick building that is now home to Harriet, Angel and Columbia, bald eagles who have been grounded by injury but still work hard to educate the public about their world.

"For me, this has been a project of the heart," said Garrigan, director of programming and public relations at the National Eagle Center.

"This building has a lot of soul in it," she added. "You can feel it" when you walk into the spacious open area on the main floor and glance out two-story windows at the river and the wildlife.

"It vibrates with an energy from all the people who worked on it."

Garrigan has been promoting and gathering support for the new eagle center for years. Seeing it move from concept to reality has been "almost like giving birth," she quipped. "It's a wonderful time to celebrate."

Center supporters are excited about $500,000 which the 2007 Minnesota Legislature approved in the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources funding omnibus bill.

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, authored the grant provision and was advocate for the bill, which received bipartisan support.

That funding capped the Capital Campaign Committee's effort to raise $4 million to build and equip the center.

A number of exhibits will be installed over the summer months, in preparation for the Sept. 29 grand opening. There will be interactive exhibits designed to appeal to families, such as a lever people can pull to test "talon strength," and a helmet device that will let people see what an eagle sees.

"We're focusing on the eagles," Garrigan said, citing the conservation effort on their behalf. "It's a tremendous comeback story."

Cultural exhibits also are planned. Not only is the eagle the national symbol, it is important to veterans and Native Americans -- two groups that provide solid support for the center.

The public's reaction to the new facilities has been everything Garrigan hoped for.

"People are just thrilled with the breathtaking views," she said, including hundreds of students from local schools who came on spring field trips.

"The eagles have adjusted quite well," she added. "They seem to be doing great."

Anyone interested in working with the eagles is welcome to stop and inquire, Garrigan said.

"We're always looking for volunteers. There's a lot of things they can help with."