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21-foot loon from Virginia, Minnesota, migrates south for Minnesota State Fair

The giant bird, in protective wrap, made the road trip early Thursday morning. It will be on display in the Eco Experience building to raise awareness of the dangers of lead pollution.

Giant loon sits on back of truck outside building.
Virginia's giant loon sits unwrapped on the truck it traveled on to the Minnesota State Fairgrounds before being moved inside the Eco Experience building Thursday.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune
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FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. — The loon has landed. Very early Thursday morning, a 21-foot model of Minnesota's state bird made the 200-mile journey from the city of Virginia to the Eco Experience building on the State Fairgrounds. There it was to be installed on a custom-made pond model, where the loon will help raise awareness about the dangers of lead pollution.

Photo of truck bed with giant loon model wrapped in white plastic
The outsize Virginia loon model, as seen when covered in protective wrap for its roadtrip to the State Fairgrounds.
Contributed / City of Virginia

"It's a very delicate loon," said Virginia Mayor Larry A. Cuffe Jr. "It is made out of papier-mache with a lot of finish on it." The loon, which typically floats in Silver Lake during the summer, used to make appearances across the state at events like Duluth's Christmas City of the North Parade and the Minneapolis Aquatennial. Since the city acquired the 40-year-old model from the local Jaycees in 1999, though, it's rarely left Virginia.

"The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has asked us to bring it down to the State Fair to display it," said Cuffe. "We're happy to do that. It not only highlights the city of Virginia; the most important thing for me is that it highlights the importance of how our water has to stay clean."

Lead pollution is a hazard to real loons — often coming from lead-based fishing tackle the loons end up eating — but the model loon faces other threats.

There are spikes on top of the loon for its lake excursions, said Cuffe. "That's to keep the birds from landing on it and, you know, depositing unwanted substances on top of the loon. We don't want people climbing on top of it, either. People will canoe over there and have photographs taken."

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The bills would provide $30 million to replace water lines in homes and ban some hunting ammunition.

"They went to a lot of efforts up in Virginia to repaint it so it looks beautiful," said Stephen Mikkelson, communications specialist for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. "They've been very helpful."

Cuffe learned at a young age how important it is to protect our state bird, and our ecosystem generally. "I have a Native American background: my grandfather," Cuffe said. "My grandfather used to say how important it is to respect nature, but particularly the loon, which is a sacred bird."

"The loon is obviously an eye catcher," said Mikkelson. "It's going to really draw people in and help us spread a lot of good information to a lot of fairgoers."

Man drives forklift to move a giant loon.
Jeff Stuhr guides the giant loon into the Eco Experience building Thursday with a forklift supporting the front, with dollies supporting the sides.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune
Giant loon sits next to a wooden platform currently under construction.
Virginia's giant loon temporarily rests next to the custom-pond, still being built as of Thursday in the Eco Experience building on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in February 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can reach him at jgabler@duluthnews.com or 218-279-5536.
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