Reg Westcott and an immature eagle ambassador were are the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society open house on Sunday.

Reg Westcott and an immature eagle ambassador were are the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society open house on Sunday.

Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society to build North Island visitor centre

The organization that rescues and rehabilitates wildlife – primarily large birds – receives $230,000 from Island Coastal Economic Trust




The lives of eagles, owls, hawks and other birds on the northern Vancouver Island just got a little safer thanks to Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS) successfully securing some more funding.

The organization that rescues and rehabilitates wildlife – primarily large birds – just received $230,000 from the provincially-funded Island Coastal Economic Trust which will be used to build a visitor centre on its new 4.4 hectare site between Courtenay and Campbell River.

“If you can imagine MARS being over the moon – that’s us,” said MARS vice-president Pearl McKenzie.

After more than 20 years of rehabilitating sick and injured wildlife from across northern Vancouver Island, MARS is about to embark on a major expansion by adding educational tourism to the services it provides.

“It allows to build this visitors centre. It allows us to build a home for our education program – a first time home,” McKenzie said. “Our existing site just didn’t provide enough room. This big – over 11 acre – site gives us lots of room to welcome people and that’s important.

“Rehabilitation is our core program but almost all of the animals that we treat that have been injured, or have been abandoned, need our help because of negative interaction with people so education is a really important function of our work.”

MARS has experienced significant growth in its caseload, and purchased a 4.4 hectare site in 2014 between Courtenay and Campbell River. With new zoning from the Comox Valley Regional District in hand, MARS is beginning the process of building a Wildlife Eco Centre along with a new hospital facility.

Created by the Province of BC in 2006, the Island Coastal Economic Trust provides funding for economic diversification, planning and regional revitalization.

ICET got behind the MARS project in part because of its value as a tourist draw.

“The business case for the creation of the ECO Centre is clear: a very conservative estimate is 10,000 visitors annually, leading to the creation of between six and ten local jobs,” said ICET Chair Phil Kent. “Beyond the tremendous impact MARS has on the wildlife they save, this project is going to be a significant driver of tourism-based economic activity.”

The ECO Centre will include an interpretive building with displays, a theatre, closed-circuit cameras showing ‘patients’ in the wildlife hospital, meeting rooms, a gift shop, and more.

“Wildlife viewing is a significant and growing tourism activity, with people interested in authentic, educational experiences,” said Warren Warttig, President of MARS and professional biologist. “From our educational or ambassador birds, unable to leave due to injuries, to the Flight Pen where large birds including eagles, swans cranes, and other large birds are rehabilitated, to trails and viewing ponds, visitors will have an immersive experience with the wildlife at our centre.”

Studies show that more than 30 per cent of Canadians included wildlife viewing as part of their vacation experiences, and that they tended to have higher-than-average incomes and education levels, meaning that they are prime targets for destination marketing initiatives.

“ICETs own research into the visitors who will come to the ECO Centre shows that the average per-day spending is about $155,” Kent said.

MARS is already an established presence on the island, with 20,000 fans on Facebook, and numerous media stories that have gone viral, reaching international audiences.

“We’re ready to really reach our potential with this project, building the facilities that will allow us to bring visitors in for a first-hand insight to what we do,” McKenzie said. “From the moment they arrive on site when they’re greeted by a volunteer for an orientation, to the conclusion of their self-guided visit, we’re going to be providing visitors with an experience unlike any other.”

Fully staffed with both employees and volunteers, the ECO Centre will encourage guests to ask questions and have conversations to deepen their understanding of the wildlife and the rehabilitation efforts they go through.

Each habitat within the facility will lead the visitors through displays highlighting the flora and fauna of the regions of BC from which the birds arrive: the North Island, the Discovery Islands, and the inlets and fjords of the Coastal Mainland.

“This accessible ‘trail’ meanders and winds through the simulated environments, complete with the sounds one would hear in nature, giving visitors a sense of the wildlife’s environment,” said Pearl McKenzie.

Interpretive signs and story boards will describe the historical importance of each habitat to First Nations as well as the values inherent for people today.

For sections of the facility not accessible to the public – like the wildlife hospital – closed-circuit cameras will be placed throughout the buildings to allow visitors to see the patients and the work being done in the rehab centre. Volunteers and staff will relay the story of each patient, including where and how it was rescued, the cause of injury or illness, prognosis, and other information.

The project is expected to be complete by August, 2017.

 

 

 

 

Just Posted

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

Black Press Media file
Port Hardy RCMP on the hunt for porta-pottie arsonist

The porta-potties were lit on fire early in the morning on June 13

Eke Me-Xi students enjoy a field trip to Malcolm Island. (Submitted photos)
Eke Me-Xi Learning Centre takes field trip to Malcolm Island

Once at Bere Point, students made themselves at home in the day-use area

Mount Waddington Regional Fall Fair logo
Mount Waddington Regional Fall Fair cancelled again due to COVID-19 restrictions

The 2022 fall fair is still scheduled to take place in Port Hardy

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

Most Read