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The Living Museum:

Sun, Nov 19th, 2000
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A Historical OverviewBy John LevellMonday, November 13, 2000

So just where in southeastern Minnesota can one experience balmy 80 degree temperatures while viewing exotic tropical wildlife right through those long, cold and dreary days of our all too quickly approaching winter? The answer, at the Living Museum of Natural History in Lanesboro. But what is the Living Museum, what does it do, and just how did it come to be located in Lanesboro to begin with? Hopefully, the following brief review will help answer some of these these questions.

The Living Museums story begins in the late spring of 1997, when plans for the establishment of the institution were initially formulated. As a vital component of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Root River State Trail, the City of Lanesboro is visited by a substantial number of the host of outdoor enthusiasts, sportsmen, and other environmentally conscious people who explore Fillmore County and adjacent portions of southeastern Minnesota on an annually basis. This, in combination with Lanesboros widespread reputation as a "general tourism hotspot," makes the city an ideal location for enlightening the public about the ecological value of animals and plants as well as the overall importance of preserving both regional habitats and global environments.

During preliminary research into the feasibility of creating a local natural history museum, discussions with the Lanesboro Historical Preservation Association (LPHA) revealed a strong interest in the project on the part of that organization. The idea was discussed further at subsequent LHPA Board of Directors meetings, where it was mutually agreed that the new "nature center" should share space in the building already housing the LHPAs impressive collection of local historical artifacts. Thus was born, in concept at least, Lanesboros Living Museum of Natural History (LMNH). Early work included the gathering together, moving and set up of assorted cages, live animals, artifacts, showcases and other sundry equipment, with the Living Museums doors officially opening to the public in October 1997. Incorporation as a non-profit educational institution was likewise actively pursued, with the LMNH finally being accorded fully recognized federal 501c(3) tax-exempt status on June 2, 1999.

Although small, the fully handicapped accessible space in the lower level of the Lanesboro Historical Preservation Associations facility is an excellent location in which to house the Living Museum, at least on a temporary basis. This nationally registered historic landmark building (circa the late 1800s) is situated right in the heart of "Historic Downtown Lanesboro" and is within easy walking distance of the citys school (K-12), parks, and campgrounds. The Root River State Trail forms the propertys southern boundary making the Living Museums front door readily accessible to the frequent travelers of this increasingly popular recreational route. The Root River borders the property to the rear (west) and is separated from the building by the small and currently somewhat overgrown LMNH outdoor "backyard."

While live animals and plants including an assortment of native and exotic amphibians and reptiles are the museum's most prominent and popular exhibits, other current LMNH displays include an extensive and ancient (circa 1930-1936) collection of butterflies and moths (on semi-permanent loan from long time Lanesboro resident Luther Thompson), assorted Fillmore County fossils (some over 350 million years old), three fossilized turtles, and a variety of skulls, bones, skins and other natural history artifacts. In addition to general exhibits, the Living Museum also collects regional animal distribution data, provides both "in house" and traveling environmental education programs featuring living animals and natural history artifacts, and functions as a readily accessible local nature question and answer "hotline."

As might be expected, the Living Museums first three years of existence have been exceedingly hectic but still extremely rewarding and interesting times. For example, approximately 5,000 people passed through our doors during the first full year (Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 1998) of museum operartions alone. These visitors came from at least 19 different states and 10 foreign countries and embodied a broad cross section of both local residents and visitors to our area. The show of support from members of the community has proven particularly gratifying indeed, as many area residents have either donated or loaned the museum natural history artifacts or have otherwise provided much needed equipment, manpower, and financial resources.

With these thoughts in mind, the Living Museum continues to strive toward the development of ever improving educational exhibits that illustrate the diversity, beauty and value of both native and exotic animals, plants, and environments. Current goals include the creation of native wildflower and plant demonstration sites in the museums backyard and the launching of a new publication series focusing on the wildlife of Fillmore County and the greater Blufflands Region. The first of the LMNH wildlife guides, the color illustrated 101 Familiar Birds of the Root River State Trail, has recently been completed and should be available sometime in early 2001. Other planned 2001 LMNH activities include special guest appearances of the live Bald Eagles of the Audubon Societys new National Eagle Center in Wabasha.

So plan on stopping in for a visit sometime soon. During the winter the LMNH is open from 10 AM to 4 PM everyday except Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Admission is always free but your generous and vitally important donations are most gladly excepted. For additional information on LMNH programs and activities call 507-467-2167.

By John Levell

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