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Ironworld Loses Its Mettle

Back in the 1990s, a tourist attraction named Ironworld U.S.A. was a popular stop in Chisholm, Minnesota. It had a teepee, a goofy-looking dinosaur, and a train ride along the rim of an open-pit mine “to enjoy the scenic wonder of an open-pit mine,” according to its brochure. It wasn’t technically accurate (cartoon dinosaurs rarely bothered iron miners) but that wasn’t the point.

Sod House.By the late 1990s, however, the teepee, dinosaur, and train ride were gone. Ironworld still existed, but it had lost its punch and had been renamed Ironworld Discovery Center, stressing feel-good diversity days and interpretive historical exhibits.

We had a hunch that that wasn’t going to work forever — and it didn’t. According to a new report by KSTP-TV, Ironworld “only had about 42 visitors a day” last year, and so big changes have been made. Did Ironworld bring back the dinosaur? No. Ironworld “has changed its name in hopes of attracting more visitors,” to the Minnesota Discovery Center.

Good luck with that.

Taking the iron out of Ironworld reminds us of the painful name juggling of the former Parrot Jungle, a classic Florida bird show attraction, which moved, expanded and became Parrot Jungle Island, and is now just Jungle Island. According to the Miami Herald, the attraction is doing just as poorly as the Minnesota Discovery Center.

Name changes by businesses are not undertaken frivolously — there’s stationery and sign costs, re-branding and marketing, and letting 50,000 directory websites know they have the name posted wrong. So why does a classic attraction, with decades of brand recognition built up, do it?  It may be local appeal vs. national. Perhaps it’s because repeat visits by regional families, school groups and organizations are more vital than enticing someone 5 states away.

Pellet Pete.It can also be an attempt to keep up with changing public sentiment.  Paul Bunyan’s Logging World might seem no longer relevant, vaguely sexist, and anti-“Green.” Why not re-label as the Sustainable Resource Encounter?

From our perspective, a name change to promote mainstream aspirations may knock an attraction off our oddity radar. We first stopped at the Ironworld Discovery Center because it had once been the more alluring Ironworld USA, and we wanted to see what had survived. We were rewarded by finding, among its exhibits, the clunky but lovable Pellet Pete.

Pellet Pete may still be there, but a good attraction two name changes removed may not be worth a stop to find out….

Sections: Attraction News, Rants 2 Comments »

Pellet Pete

Minnesota Discovery Center

West side of Chisolm on Hwy 169, intersection with Hwy 73. Pellet Pete is inside the attraction.
Mem-Lab Day Tu-Sa 10-5 (open til 9 on Th), Su 1-5 (Call to verify)

2 Responses to “Ironworld Loses Its Mettle”

  1. Linda Says:
    June 17th, 2009 at 7:36 am

    Thanks for this. I hadn’t heard about this change, and I live in Minnesota.

    We went to Ironworld a year and a half ago, and with kids it wasn’t very, well, fun. Other than the horse-drawn sleigh ride (which was fun even though it was 15 below zero) that showed us all of the cool things that weren’t open, there wasn’t a lot there for kids.

    I hope the name change helps them out, because 42 visitors a day isn’t very helpful for revenue.

  2. Steven Keig Says:
    June 18th, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Hmmmm… Isn’t Chisholm also the home of the infamous Archie “Moonlight” Graham from Field of Dreams?

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