“So this is the brand-new raptor center,” says Michele Miller Houck, technically the Carolina Raptor Center’s associate executive director but someone who, on the center’s website and in her email signature, has adopted the title of “Chief Wonder Maker.”
“And it’ll have 40 enclosures. It’ll have an outdoor classroom and health and wellness center for the birds—so, essentially, this is where the diet is prepared. This is where the quarterly health checks are done on the birds. This is where they would come if they had an injury. This is for our resident birds that live at this facility—which will be probably between 60 and 80 birds that will live here.”
It’s midday on a January Friday at Quest, the new, multimillion-dollar science education center for the nonprofit Raptor Center and Latta Nature Center and Preserve (6345 Sample Rd., Huntersville); 1,460-acre Latta, Mecklenburg County’s largest nature preserve, has hosted the Raptor Center since 1984. No one else is around—we’re all still slogging through the winter of COVID—and Houck and I keep our masks on and our conversation properly distanced.
But eventually, Houck and the rest of her team hope, as many as 100,000 children and adults per year will roam the trail that leads to new enclosures for owls, eagles, hawks, vultures, shrikes, and even a laughing kookaburra, and take in bird shows at a new, 200-seat Duke Energy Amphitheater.
This alone would be a significant step for the Raptor Center. But those improvements join hands with the now-completed, 13,000-square-foot Quest, a modern education center for Latta with water-themed interactive exhibits, meeting spaces, classrooms, and an indoor fountain that demonstrates how Charlotte gets its drinking water: rain that collects in nearby Mountain Island Lake.