In Austin, Minn., Hormel operates the world-famous SPAM Museum. Like Hibbing’s Hull Rust Mine View, there is no admission. They’re actually on their third museum, expanding in 2001 and again just two years ago.

I’ve been there. If you want to know how random pork squeezings get turned into nebulous canned meat, they’ll tell you. And, believe it or not, by the end of the experience most of you will want to try some. It’s a rather remarkable use of history as marketing.

Last Sunday, Carrie Manner penned a story in this newspaper about the plight of the Hibbing Tourist Senior Center.

One finds the Hibbing Tourist Senior Center on Howard Street just off the Beltline exit. It serves as a hub for tourist information about the town. But the organization’s most popular task is running the Hull Rust Mine View in historic North Hibbing.

Or, at least, that was the case until Hibbing Taconite announced last year they were expanding their mine footprint and needed the mine view park to move. A new mine view is under construction this year, but wont’ be open during the peak summer tourism season. The old mine view is already gone.

As Manner reported last Sunday, this leaves the volunteer-run Hibbing Tourist Senior Center in a bind. The number of visitors up in North Hibbing always dwarfed the number that showed up downtown. It’s also where most of their donations were collected.

Bracing for the changes, the seniors invested in some new equipment to make ethnic foods at the Howard Street location. They’re hopeful that they can still draw a good number of tourists, but it’s easy to see why there could be challenges.

That’s why they told this newspaper that they need help raising money to bridge the gap until the new mine view is open next year. How much are they trying to raise? $7,500. As of last Sunday, they had raised $135 through Facebook, though I’m sure they’ve gotten a few bucks since.

To me, it seems outrageous that a group of hard working seniors who put in countless volunteer hours would have to do this.

Let’s consider the experience that thousands of people have when they visit the mine view. First, a person drives up to the mine view and sees one of the most stunning vistas you’ll ever see. Some say it’s beautiful. Others say it’s industrial. But it will drop your jaw, regardless.

Inside the center, volunteers — usually people whose lives are directly tied to mining somehow — answer questions and tell stories. Visitors learn the following:

1) Minnesota iron mining shaped the world we live in. The ore from this pit won WWII and build post-war America.

2) The taconite process isn’t like underground mining that you read about in history books. The technology is remarkable.

3) Mining isn’t in the past, it’s happening now. Thousands of people work in the industry and you can see them down in those trucks and shovels right now.

I teach communication, including persuasion. I’ve also worked in public relations. You can’t pay for this kind of marketing. It’s priceless and deeply effective. And not just for tourists.

I’d been to the old mine view countless times. We brought the kids there to see the big trucks when they were little. I would bring visiting reporters from all over the world up there all the time, along with visiting relatives and friends. Why? Because it was one stop that showed both a historical and modern perspective on mining.

Keep in mind, I’m a local! My family has five generations of ties to mining on the Mesabi Iron Range.

You want my opinion? Some nice checks from Cleveland-Cliffs, U.S. Steel, Arcelor Mittal could take care of this with less than one train car of taconite. Perhaps the Iron Mining Association could do it for them. Don’t call it a donation. Call it an investment in some of the best marketing you can get.

Right now the mines all show profits coming in for the foreseeable future. Further, Minnesota’s iron ore production tax rate hasn’t increased in a generation.

This group of hard working community volunteers already does yeoman’s work on behalf of the mining industry. They shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege. And neither should the community that, by rights, holds financial stake in the ore beneath our feet.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and community college instructor from Northern Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio (KAXE.org).

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