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New Welcome Center for Sax-Zim Bog

Updated: 02/17/2014 9:03 AM
Created: 02/17/2014 8:55 AM WDIO.com

Just west of Cotton, MN lies the Sax-Zim Bog. It has been well known in the birder community as a great place for winter bird watching. A new Welcome Center is currently under construction with some unique ways to stay environmentally friendly.

The Sax-Zim Bog covers almost 150-thousand acres of black spruce and tamarack. A wide variety of terrain ranging from open prairie to swampy waters makes for habitat suitable for winter aerial predators.

"I'd say 85% come in winter because that's when these boreal birds come south from Canada," says Sparky Stensaas, Executive Director of Friends of Sax-Zim. "These are the ones they to add to their life list or get a photo of."

In the heart of the bog, just down Owl Avenue, is the construction of their new Welcome Center, just about finished, set for a grand opening on March 8th.

"We decided to build an off the grid environmentally friendly building," explains Stensaas.

Being off the grid, they have to find unique ways to preserve the landscape. One way is by using aspen for the siding instead of cedar. Stensaas says aspen is a shorter rotation tree, and is a lot more in abundance.

However, the aspen used for the project is no ordinary wood. This siding has been thermally modified to make it stronger and more durable. A process that's gaining steam at the Natural Resources Research Institute in Hermantown.

"We wanted some experience cooking aspen," says NRRI Program Director, Pat Donahue. "It gave us the opportunity to cook about 12 loads, and we gained a lot of knowhow."

The NRRI is providing the aspen for the Welcome Center as a sort of pilot project hoping to open new markets for modified wood. Donahue remarks that aspen is a perfect candidate for modification because it's not known as being very durable, especially when exposed to weathering elements.

The wood is placed in a special kiln, cooked at high temperatures and high pressure for 24 hours. The finished product looks as though it has been stained.

"The two things where decay starts, water and sugar, we eliminate those," explains Donahue. "We do this all without the addition of any chemicals. Just the addition of a very specific cooking recipe."

Donahue says his team is currently in the testing phase, and are using the kiln for other projects to make doors, window frames, and decking. Stensaas and the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog say they are grateful, knowing their Welcome Center will be around for a long time.

"We want everybody to see these birds," adds Stensaas. "We want to share with the public. It's just a fascinating habitat and we want to see it preserved."

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