The North American Bear Center in Ely will expand its education and exhibit space when the center's new Northwoods Ecology Hall opens Saturday.

Ely bear researcher Lynn Rogers said he's long dreamed of a place where visitors can learn about the sights and sounds of northern Minnesota's woods, and many people helped realize this aspiration at the bear center he founded.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

"What happened is just really competent people stepped forward to do their parts to make this thing what it should be. It's beyond what I had dreamed," Rogers said.

The $1.5 million Northwoods Ecology Hall is an 8,000-square-foot expansion that includes the Hope Learning Center, named for the bear cub Hope who became an Internet sensation in 2010.

A grand opening is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Saturday at the North American Bear Center in Ely.

"It's been a long time coming. It just got better and better as more and more experts stepped up to make it a world class place," Rogers said.

The main exhibit is a replica of the northwoods habitat showing young and old forests and the changing seasons. Donated animals stuffed by taxidermists are on display in the replicated habitat, including moose, deer and wolves. The exhibit also includes woodland caribou, which were native to northern Minnesota at one time, Rogers said.

"It expands the North American Bear Center into more of the world of the black bear here - the habitat, the animals they interact with. It's not just about bears; it tells about the other animals too," Rogers said.

A team of researchers compiled information about each of the habitat's animals, which visitors can access through touchscreen kiosks, he said.

Rogers said the exhibit will "stay fresh" because there's many things he still wants to incorporate into it. He added that people did an excellent job creating the exhibit and a mural provides a backdrop for the habitat.

The habitat includes the sound of the woods accompanied by photos and videos. Visitors will also be able to view photos of animals captured by trail cams.

Rogers said he didn't originally think he'd be able to have an aquarium in the hall, but people helped to make it happen. In addition to a 10-foot aquarium, a terrarium houses snakes, turtles, frogs and salamanders.