Minnesota Discovery Center Optimistic for Strong Future Ahead

The COVID-19 Pandemic Provided Staff at the Minnesota Discovery Center Time to Rethink Their Mission & Impact on Visitors

CHISHOLM, Minn. – Staff at a museum on the Iron Range is thankful, and making a big impact as they work to come out of the pandemic stronger than ever before. They say the silver lining is shining bright at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm.

“I think they’re excited to explore and run around, ride the trolley, and play a round of mini-golf,” said Donna Johnson, executive director at the Minnesota Discovery Center.

If it were still July of 2020, the sights would be significantly different on the grounds of the Minnesota Discovery Center.

“We’re the largest museum north of the Twin Cities, and we sit on over 640 acres,” said Johnson.

This large facility, like many other museums, has been through countless ups and downs over the past year.

“Our mission at the Discovery Center is to preserve and tell the Iron Range history and the story,” said Johnson.

Their mission is clear and continues to prevail after the tidal wave known as COVID-19 kept doors closed for months on end.

“Through that process, it gave us time to think about our mission and direction, and aligning ourselves with the Redhead Mountain Bike Park,” said Johnson.

Thankfully, the development of a new mountain bike and hiking park has helped the center stay afloat, reaching new visitation levels never seen before.

“There’s a lot of geological formations, beautiful water, birch trees, hills, big inclines. It’s drawing people from all over the world, not only the Midwest and Minnesota,” said Johnson.

In 2020, nearly 20,000 riders checked out the new terrain.

The simplistic natural beauty of the Iron Range, enticing people to invest in communities such as Chisholm.

“When people come their jaws are just dropped. They can’t believe this exists in Northern Minnesota. It’s like the Grand Canyon,” said Johnson. “Our numbers are now trending upwards higher than they were pre-pandemic.”

It’s a reality written on paper that leaves executive director Donna Johnson feeling a sense of accomplishment after a year of unknown.

“The pandemic really gave us time to push and explore new directions,” explained Johnson. “We kept everybody on staff through the pandemic, even when they weren’t really having to report to work. We were able to retain our whole workforce.”

Johnson says right now, the Discovery Center is employing the highest number of employees it has in the past ten years. It’s a sign of hope on the horizon, and reassurance there are better days to come.

“Our tiny museum in Northern Minnesota, not only did we maintain our workforce, but we were able to grow it, and we were able to expand and offer more than we did pre-pandemic,” said Johnson.

She says the center is looking to host a Bob Dylan-themed concert later this year. They’re also hoping to add lodging on-site in the future.

For now, water recreation in the form of kayak and canoe rentals will soon be available at Redhead thanks to a grant received from the Chisholm Community Foundation.

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