Peace River Wildlife Center has been located in Ponce de Leon Park since 1982, in a public park owned by the city of Punta Gorda. It was discovered a few years ago that the property we occupy is actually on private land adjacent to the park, and so we must move our facility.
We were originally hoping to rebuild within the confines of the park, but building costs and permitting changes have made the cost to the city for revamping the park unaffordable. Their price estimate went from $1 million to $4 million. The cost for us to build a safe and accessible education building and animal habitats at this location has also skyrocketed.
We have purchased a building in which we will relocate the rehabilitation portion of our organization temporarily. The temporary rehabilitation location at 223 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Punta Gorda (the old Millennium Lab building across from the Justice Center). We anticipate the rehab being there for 2 or 3 years while we search for a permanent location. We hope to move the rehab there within the next few weeks.
The exhibits will remain in Ponce de Leon Park for the foreseeable future. We are also looking for a new home for the exhibits and are in negotiations with the city of Punta Gorda for a portion of the Henry Street park. This is in the neighborhood of History Park, the new library, the Visual Arts Center, the linear park pathway and across the street from Fisherman’s Village and the Military Heritage Museum. With its proximity to other area venues and attractions, this would be an ideal location for our education facility — if we can obtain it.
For those of you keeping track, this ridiculous nightmare has been ongoing for well over six years now. We have been trying to locate an appropriate site to keep our rehab and educational exhibits together, to no avail. Between neighborhood squabbling and permitting issues, we have conceded the fact that the two different aspects of our work must be separated.
Many people were incensed the first time we mentioned we were looking for property in Charlotte County, outside Punta Gorda city limits. They threatened to withhold support to our organization if we didn’t stay in Punta Gorda Isles. We sincerely hope these people realize the extent to which we went to try to make that happen. With the ardent help of the city of Punta Gorda staff and council members, we have literally exhausted all possibilities to make this happen. We hope to find out within the next few weeks if we can keep the exhibits in Punta Gorda, which is our fervent hope, but much depends on the neighbors.
We have met with some serious misinformation and some downright ridiculous accusations from people who claim to support our mission, but don’t want us in “their backyard.” One recent allegation is that we will contaminate the area and spread histoplasmosis to everyone in the vicinity. Histoplasmosis is a fungal infection that people can contract by inhaling spores. The disease is common in the Ohio and Mississippi River Valley areas, as well as Central and South America, Asia, Africa and Australia. It is not all that common in Florida.
Histoplasmosis can be contracted from contaminated soil with high concentrations of bat and bird droppings, such as caves, attics or isolated rookeries. It would be unusual to find such an organism in an area that is scrubbed and disinfected with a dilute bleach solution at least once daily — as is the case with all our bird cages and habitats. In the 30-plus years PRWC has been treating injured wildlife, not one of our employees or volunteers has been diagnosed with this or any disease contracted through the handling of our patients or residents.
Another laughable complaint about PRWC was that we attract vultures, as evidenced by the huge numbers that were circling the Charlotte Harbor area a few weeks ago. Yes, there were probably close to 500 vultures soaring on the thermals. We had numerous bird watchers and photographers flocking to the area to see and photograph this phenomenon.
But this happens every year at this time as migratory flocks pass overhead. They were not attracted by anything in or near PRWC. Few, if any, landed on or near our property. Within a day or two, they were gone. One could just as easily blame President George W. Bush for attracting them, as his visit corresponded with theirs, and the link is just as irrelevant.
With the new year and the new decade upon us, PRWC sincerely wishes the best for our supporters, and even for those who don’t support us financially or in spirit. Our 2020 vision is getting clearer every day, and we hope to have a firm plan for our future soon. Your voices can help make that happen. Help us drown out the naysayers who spread vicious rumors that sully our good works. Please help us find a new home, for the sake of the injured and orphaned wildlife in and around Charlotte County.
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.