Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, when daytime dramas were king and Peace River Wildlife Center was a nascent group of plucky kids with a dream of giving injured wildlife a chance at more than one life to live.
PRWC was started on a lanai by local veterinarian Jerry Gingerich and friends Virginia and Larry Montague in 1982. By 1985, the demand for services saw the growing group of volunteers move to its current location in Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda. With the addition of a little shed serving as office, waiting room, hospital, surgery and staff lounge, they though they were big-time.
Fast forward 30-odd years (emphasis on the odd) and PRWC has once again outgrown our constraints. Not to mention that the land we have been occupying isn’t actually in the park as originally thought. A more modern survey performed when the land next to us sold proved an old aerial survey approximation by General Development Corp. when platting PGI for development was incorrect. The days of our lives here were numbered.
The city of Punta Gorda has offered us an acre in the planned new design of Ponce de Leon Park right next to where we are now, and that can’t happen soon enough for us. It literally can’t. It is a generous offer, and we look forward to expanding our exhibits, education facilities, and gift shop.
In the meantime, our buildings and cages are falling down around our ears. The aging structures are being shored up with duct tape and fairy dust as best we can in anticipation of the new project, but we are reluctant to spend too much money on temporary fixes as the dark shadows threaten to overtake us.
A recent change in the engineering phase of this bold and beautiful project is going to force our young and restless staff to wait even longer to begin construction on the general hospital and other facilities. As this secret storm is brewing, we have decided to investigate the possibility of an off-site location for the rehab portion of our organization.
This will in no way diminish the educational exhibits at Ponce de Leon park. Quite the opposite — it will give us more room for amenities the public can enjoy. We will have more and larger resident habitats. We will have a larger gift shop, so more than one person can walk around without knocking those soon-to-be treasured heirlooms off a shelf. It will be a place where desperate housewives can send their children and visiting northern relatives for a brief respite.
We anticipate having an education center, with monitors to allow viewing of current patients and medical procedures as they happen. The rehab patients are not permitted by law to be on display to the public, so most of our visitors are unaware of what goes on behind the scenes. Whether these activities are happening on the other side of a wall or three miles way is a moot point. An off-site rehab facility will take the action farther away while the cameras and monitors will bring it closer than it ever has been at PRWC.
It will give our rehab staff the ability to optimize their potential. Currently we make do with the limited infrastructure we have, but it’s far from ideal. We need additional and larger rehab caging and better equipment—like the water features in the shorebird and pelican ponds of our exhibit caging, a necessary amenity for properly rehabbing water birds. We need more song bird pre-release caging so when contagious diseases rear their ugly heads, we’ll have quarantine facilities at our disposal.
And that is just a portion of our “need” list. Our “want” list is even more massive. At the top of that inventory is a larger food prep area. We currently use a narrow pathway to the computer desk and file cabinet, between a freezer and refrigerator, a sink and countertop, and a folding table to prepare resident and patient diets. It is a one-butt kitchen that often has three or more butts jockeying for space.
If we can find a location for the rehabilitation portion of our organization, it will alleviate many of the growing pains we are experiencing. Of course, it will add some new ones. We will need more volunteers to staff two locations, but for the most part our volunteers are tasked with the jobs of their own choosing. The tour guides and gift shop clerks will remain at Ponce de Leon Park. The hospital helpers will work with the rehabbers off-site. And the newly constructed facilities may mean our overworked maintenance crew may be able to finish a project before it starts to fall apart again.
We hope to be able to expedite this project and get it done even faster than the park project. By splitting the two aspects of our facilities, we can cut the costs of each, since we won’t need to duplicate most of the infrastructure. The rehab facilities should be a much smaller undertaking than the complete reconstruction of a city park, so we are hoping it will happen faster. This will allow us to remove the more fragile patients and residents from the park site while that major construction is being done.
We are excited about this new opportunity and massive potential for growth. We encourage the community to partner with us — by volunteering your time or services or, as many of your friends and neighbors already have, by contributing to our capital campaign. As the world turns and we search for tomorrow’s guiding light, we look forward to blazing a new dynasty for Punta Gorda and the Charlotte Harbor area.
Peace River Wildlife Center is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to the care, preservation and protection of Charlotte County’s native wildlife since 1978. They are open seven days a week year-round, including holidays. Tours are offered from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. PRWC receives no government funding and relies entirely on private donations. For more info, visit PRWildlife.org, email PeaceRiverWildlife@yahoo.com or call 941-637-3830.