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Land near Brotherhood Bridge slated for raptor clinic

Site would be for bird rehabilitation clinic and nature education center

Posted: Sunday, March 30, 2003

Injured eagles, owls and ravens soon may have a new place to perch and heal near Juneau's Brotherhood Bridge.

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens secured $350,000 in federal funding last month for the city to purchase 10.5 acres of private land in the Mendenhall Valley. The property, which is near the Kaxhdighoowu Heen trail and the Mendenhall River, would be used for a bird rehabilitation clinic and nature education center. The Juneau Raptor Center, the Trust for Public Land and the city have been working with Stevens' office on the acquisition for three years.

The land offers a permanent place to treat injured birds and educate the public, Juneau Raptor Center President Sandy Harbanuk said. Volunteers now care for about 225 injured birds a year in local homes, garages and backyard pens, she said.

"We are so excited about this," she said. "It will be a more regular and easier thing for our volunteers ... and a phenomenal expansion of our education mission."

Part of the site, a meadow at the south end of the Kaxhdighoowu Heen trail, occasionally is used by the raptor center to release birds back into the wild, Harbanuk said. The spot also is close to the Juneau Airport. Many raptor center birds arrive by plane from surrounding communities, she said.

Rinee Merritt, project manager for the Trust for Public Land, said the national nonprofit was attracted to the project because of the raptor center's interest and the land's value to the community.

"Our mission is land for people, so when we have an opportunity to work with the community and think we can be of assistance (we try to help)," she said. "The raptor center needed a home, it was contiguous to a park and there was a wonderful landowner who was willing to give us the time to put it together."

The southern end of the property, which is filled with fireweed in the summer, offers a glimpse of the Mendenhall Glacier. The northern end contains moss-covered ridges, Sitka spruce and kettle ponds formed by the glacier's retreat, according to the Trust. The area borders Wildmeadow Lane and the Kaxhdighoowu Heen trail, which is popular with hikers, cyclists and runners.

The Trust has an option to purchase the property and will be working with the city over the next few months to complete the sale, Merritt said. The federal funding doesn't require a local match, she said.

City Lands Manager Steve Gilbertson said the property would become park land, with a special use designation for the bird center. The next step will be for the city to accept the funding from the U.S. Forest Service, he said.

"We'll have to enter into a lease with the raptor center for what they need, he said. "The lease will be at a nominal cost because they're a nonprofit."

The Juneau Raptor Center originally started work on the project in 1999 and has decided to call the new facility the Alaska Coastal Wildlife Center, Harbanuk said. After the land acquisition is complete, the nonprofit can concentrate on raising funds for a building, she said.

"We've had a building fund for some time, and had fund-raisers dedicated to the building fund," she said. "But for grants, we found we needed to have land. It was one key piece before we could do any large-scale fund-raising."

The nonprofit expects the center may cost $5 million to $6 million to build, with the rehabilitation clinic and education center in two separate buildings, Harbanuk said. The center won't be geared to tourists, but will be able to host small groups of students and visitors, she said.

The Juneau Raptor Center is sponsoring an open house from noon to 3 p.m. today at DIPAC's Macaulay Salmon Hatchery. The center's annual meeting is at noon and will include an update on the new center.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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