The Great Bend Raptor Center at Brit Spaguh Zoo is about to get a major exhibit makeover that will tie in to the Scenic Byway and Cheyenne Bottoms, Zoo Director Scott Gregory said Tuesday.
The Raptor Center opened in 2008 and serves as the main entrance to Brit Spaugh Zoo. It houses a meeting area, restrooms, vending machines and gift shop, as well as Gregory’s office. But its mission is protect and conserve raptors — birds of prey such as hawks, eagles, owls and falcons.
The Kansas Department of Transportation awarded a grant to the City of Great Bend to develop new exhibits for the Raptor Center that help establish a more concrete link between the Kansas Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway and the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area. Assistant City Administrator Dawn Jaeger said the entire five-phase project will cost $200,000, with the grant paying $160,000. The city will pick up the remaining $40,000 as its matching contribution to the grant. The exhibits, which are being fabricated and installed by Dixon Studios Inc. in Tucson, Ariz., account for $140,000.
The five exhibits will explain how the Great Bend Raptor Center serves as a temporary sanctuary for injured birds, and will also provide educational material about raptors found at Cheyenne Bottoms. Most parts of the exhibits will be portable, but at least one component will be a permanent fixture in the display area: Dixon Studios is constructing a life-size "tree" with an eagle’s nest.
Area eco-tourism promoters hope birders from across the nation will want to make the Great Bend Raptor Center a place to visit as they tour the Scenic Byway. Earlier this month, destination marketing specialist Linda DiMario presented her 100-page marketing plan to the Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau, and praised the city’s work with Dixon Studios.
Area residents will enjoy it as well, Gregory said.
"The exhibits are educational and interpretive. They will teach about the birds at Cheyenne Bottoms and the rehabilitation process here. We want people who live here to embrace this hidden jewel," he said.
"You might learn something new every time you come over," Jaeger said.
The old exhibits are being cleared from the Raptor Center to make way for the new ones. Some of the current exhibits are model skeletons, including one of a human. These will go to the biology department at Great Bend High School.
Installation of the new exhibits will take place next week, and the Raptor Center will be closed starting Monday, June 27. It will reopen on the Fourth of July, Gregory said. The zoo will be open even when the building is closed; people will enter through the gates to the east of the Raptor Center.
The zoo is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and admission is free.
Jaeger said the exhibits include large panels with information such as what a raptor is, and why they need help from humans. There are also interactive components, such as artwork that allows visitors to compare their "wingspan" to that of various raptors, or compare the strength of their grip to that of a bird’s talon.
As part of the KDOT grant, the city is also going to develop four Scenic Byway tours, Jaeger said. That will come in the next phase of this project, and is included in the $200,000 budget, along with equipment (such as binoculars) and reading material for tours, and training for volunteer guides and other Scenic Byway hosts.