By Paul T. Choate
July 12, 2012. The grand opening and dedication of the Dan and Dianne May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center took place at 11 a.m. on Thursday, July 12, on the campus of Lees-McRae College.
Located near the banks of the Elk River adjacent to the previous facility, the 2,500 square foot center has significant improvements. These are highlighted by the addition of an education area which will help to keep visitors out of treatment areas and also provide a more enjoyable educational experience. This will help to keep the treatment center behind the scenes and allow students access to a multipurpose work room for the training of animal ambassadors.
Several prominent LMC and Banner Elk figures spoke at the ceremony, including LMC President Dr. Barry M. Buxton and Banner Elk Mayor Brenda Lyerly.
The ceremony kicked off with an opening welcome from Caroline Hart, vice president of advancement with LMC. This was followed by Board of Trustees Chairman Thomas Brigham, Jr. giving the dedication blessing. Buxton then took the podium.
“[The center is] an affirmation of the work that the students and our faculty are doing here to prepare students for careers working in nature preserves and in raptor centers and in zoos,” said Buxton. “It enables our students to do more and do it in a state of the art facility, so we’re grateful for that.”
Buxton also mentioned they will offer an “adopt an animal” program for those who want to take in rescued animals. He called the students of LMC “hardworking and most dedicated,” adding how proud he was of them.
“[The center] benefits Lees-McRae because it attracts students here from all around the country and we’re grateful for that – that’s a big plus – and the students who come are so passionate about their work,” said Buxton.
LMC senior and wildlife rehabilitation center member Eric Rayfield was next to address the crowd. Rayfield has been involved with the center since he was a freshman and said, “It’s come a long way since then.”
The former rehabilitation center was a small trailer meant to be a temporary facility. Rayfield found out last summer that benefactors were planning to donate money to build a new facility, but said he never imagined it would be done during his time at LMC.
Referring to the old facility, Rayfield joked, “I thought it was a state of the art facility,” drawing laughter from the crowd.
He added that he has been so inspired by working with injured and abandoned animals in his time at LMC that he will now be pursuing a career as a veterinarian. He concluded his speech by drawing more laughter from the crowd, saying that if LMC needed a vet at the center in a few years he would be available.
Banner Elk Mayor Brenda Lyerly said the Dan and Dianne May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center “has made Banner Elk a better place.” She also said, “All improvements to Lees-McRae are bragging points for the town of Banner Elk. Thank you for giving me bragging points.”
The new center was made possible thanks to a generous $400,000 donation from Daniel and Dianne May through the Edwin and Jeanette May Foundation.
After the ceremony, Daniel May told High Country Press that he visited the previous animal rehabilitation center a few years ago and said it was “in shambles,” so he thought to himself “we ought to fix it.”
May, originally from Michigan but now residing at Linville Ridge, said of the donation, “My wife and I are both getting older, you know, so it was time to start giving back to the community.” He also added that he hopes it benefits the wildlife in the region as well as attracting more students to LMC.
The facility will also include an intensive care and quarantine unit for animals who require being kept in a quiet location while recovering. Additionally, there will be a room within the center that is dedicated to the study of herpetology – the branch of zoology that deals with the study of amphibians and reptiles.
According to student intern Amanda Goble, the Blue Ridge Wildlife Institute at LMC is one of the only centers of its kind in Western North Carolina that is licensed to care for amphibians and reptiles.
Nina Fischesser, director of the Blue Ridge Wildlife Institute, emceed the ceremonial release. After thanking the Mays for making this possible, the ceremony shifted to the yard directly in front of the new center. To commemorate the new facility – as opposed to a ribbon cutting – a recently rehabilitated Red-tailed Hawk was presented and released into the wild in front of over 100 in attendance. The hawk leapt from its student-holder’s hawk glove and flew into the nearby woods beside the center to cheers from the audience.
“I’ve loved animals since I was a kid so this is like a dream job for me to be able to work at helping animals in a way that they can stay wild,” said Fischesser after the ceremony. “So, it’s one thing to keep an animal in a cage. That is kind of a negative way to keep animals if they are able to be out wild and free like they should be. So this is a way that we can help animals while still having kind of a connection to them.
“[The center] means that we’re a more active part of the community; it means that we can help more animals and it means that we can educate more students. We’ve got a really unique program. It’s the only one of its kind in the country where students can actually come here and work with animals for all four years of college – and most of them do. It’s an incredible program,” said Fischesser, adding that she expects the number of animals rehabilitated per year – already at approximately 1,000 – to continue to grow.
Following the ceremony, a free lunch funded by LMC was offered at the Williams Gymnasium on Hickory Nut Gap Road for those in attendance.
According to Meghan D. Wright, director of communications with LMC, the facility is licensed by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and the US Fish and Wildlife Service and will annually care for over 900 injured or orphaned wild animals from Western North Carolina. These include animals attacked by cats, hit by cars, gunshot, caught in fences and other human-induced causes. This wildlife rehabilitation work includes medical assistance in conjunction with trained veterinarians, feeding, housing and supportive care. Fully recovered animals are released in appropriate wild habitats.
The new facility is located at 367 Mill Pond Road in Banner Elk. For more information, visit brwi.lmc.edu.
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