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Hometown Tourist: International Owl Center

The International Owl Center is a place where education takes flight.

The small town of Houston, Minnesota gets world-wide attention thanks to the mysterious bird. Perhaps, due to the important role they played in history.

“The very first cave art from 30,000 years ago, was an owl,” Karla Bloem, the International Owl Center’s executive director said. “Throughout time, cultures either loved them or they hated them.”

Yet, Bloem contends it is almost impossible not to agree with the former.

“They are kind of mysterious, they’re very camouflaged, plus they just look cuddly. They are this big puffy things, with fat heads and forward facing eyes similar to us. It’s hard to place your finger on it, but there is something everybody loves about owls,” Bloem added.

The intensity of owls is a factor many people are drawn too, yet they also have a softer side.

“They are fantastic creatures, they are top predators and they are fierce,” Marjon Savelsberg, an owl researcher from the Netherlands volunteering at the IOC explained. “Yet at the same time, when they have young, they are so tender and delicate with them.”

For all these reasons and more, thousands of people from around the world flock to the International Festival of Owls each year, because it’s one of a kind.

“The first year we had 300 people. Within a few years we had people flying here, and we thought why are you flying to Houston, Minnesota in early March? That’s when we realized there was nobody else in North America doing anything like it,” Bloem said.

The festival features live shows, programs and several owl experts from different countries. During the rest of the year though, visitors to the center have more time to walk around, talk to the staff and get a closer look at live owls.

The IOC’s origins can be traced back to Houston’s Nature Center, but when Karla and her beloved Alice, the Great Horned Owl became a sensation, there needed to be a place to solely focus on the bird.

A few years later, art, photographs and writings adorn the walls of the center, located in the heart of downtown Houston. A city Karla says, fully embraced the creature, and deserves to live among the owls.

At it’s core, the center strives to promote education of not just the owl themselves, but how to make their world a better place.

“We are the biggest threat of owls, but we are also the solution of making their life better. This place is just awesome in giving people that message,” Savelsberg added.

Proving gaining knowledge of this mysterious creature, isn’t strictly for the birds.

MORE: International Owl Center

For another adventure make sure to check back next Wednesday for a new episode of Hometown Tourist, and a chance to make the La Crosse area your own.


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