KODAK, Tenn. (WATE) — For years, we’ve watched Challenger the bald eagle soar over sporting events as an ambassador for the American Eagle Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to rehab and reintroduce amazing birds to the wild.
Since the 1980s, home base has been the American Eagle Foundation in Pigeon Forge and Dollywood’s Eagle Mountain. Now, a new home is underway with the same mission, only on a much larger scale. There’s a way you can help.
It’s a vibrant spot of land, 57 acres in Kodak, soon to be the home of majestic bald eagle Challenger, George the vulture, and the famous Friar Tuck, who snaps up donations at Dollywood’s Wings of America show.
There was a lot of fanfare this week to celebrate the American Eagle Foundation’s Project Eagle, starting with a groundbreaking.
“This will be the nation’s largest education and rehabilitation center for birds of prey right here in the Smoky Mountains,” said the foundation’s Executive Director Jessica Hall.
At the luncheon celebrating the construction kickoff, the community learned more about the planned impact of Project Eagle. The new birds of prey rehabilitation center will be open for field trips, a rehab hospital, and things we can start doing now to protect the majestic birds.
“We have over 80 birds of prey so we’re going to have an expanding educational fleet,” Educational Content Specialist Robyn Miller told us.
“They may not realize that by leaving behind lead fishing tackle or shards from lead ammunition, they are inadvertently poisoning our eagles,” Miller said. “It takes a lead fragment the size of a grain of rice to be lethal to a mature bald eagle and that’s a risk that we are closely monitoring.”
The American Eagle Foundation said Project Eagle will cost around $12 million. Half of that has been raised so far. The land in Kodak, said Hall, will cost close to $500,000.
“It’s absolutely the perfect spot,” Hall said. “We couldn’t ask for a better spot and ironically enough, we purchased it right in the middle of a global pandemic.”
Project Eagle is set to open next fall.
If you’d like to support this project, there are many ways to do that. You can purchase a brick that will be used to pave the main walkway, sponsor an aviary for a special bird, or you can simply make a donation. Visit their website at www.eagles.org/project-eagle/.