The Aviary: A Special Legacy

by Norm Miede, Executive Director, The Barbara J. Mapp Foundation.

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Barbara Mapp loved animals and avidly supported animal causes throughout her life. The Barbara J. Mapp Foundation is her wonderful legacy in pursuit of this noble mission, and it is hard to imagine a more worthy example of that legacy than the future Aviary Education Center at Radnor Lake which bears her name.

It started three years ago when a mutual friend, Barrett Sutton, initially brought then FORL President Charley Hankla and me together to discuss how the Mapp Foundation and the Friends of Radnor Lake might partner. Park Manager Steve Ward joined the discussion and shared his vision of an aviary education center at the park. It has been quite a journey since then, but we’re now near the goal line, and the excitement of the seemingly endless visitors to Radnor Lake is palpable.

Like so many others, my wife Debby and I instantly fell in love with Radnor Lake when we moved here six years ago. It is one of the real gems of Tennessee, and the aviary center just adds a giant exclamation point. And what makes this project so special? First, there is the sheer magnitude of this future home for non-releasable raptors. You will find it nestled in the surrounding woods to the rear of the historic education building, with its meandering 550-foot boardwalk and amphitheater, five “raptor condos” (as fellow Aviary Committee member Lester Turner affectionately calls them), and the future bald eagle pen, the crown jewel – all supported by NES-donated poles. The pens are state-of-the-art facilities, and the design, construction and engineering are all top notch. Pictures certainly give testimony to that, but to get a true sense of how unique the project is, you have to actually see it. The WOW factor is off the charts.

Baron Construction company working on the aviary boardwalk

Baron Construction company working on the aviary boardwalk

Beyond the facility itself is the incredible connection-with-wildlife opportunity the aviary center presents. From its inception, this project has not only been about the extremely important education programming potential (which is tremendous), but also about public access to the future aviary residents, including special needs groups such as the disabled (project is all ADA compliant), the elderly and inner city communities. The keynote of the Mapp Foundation’s mission is improving the bond between people and animals, and this fabulous center will no doubt serve that goal — something Barbara would have been very proud of.

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FORL Board Member Lester Turner works on installing wire panels (donated by Nashville Wire Co.) along the 550’ board walk at the aviary center. Photograph by Steve Ward

Then there is that essential ingredient to success — teamwork. No shortage of that here. First and foremost has been the partnership between FORL, the Mapp Foundation and the State of Tennessee, evidenced not only by the Aviary Committee’s hard work

Aviary Committee members (left to right) Norm Miede, Charley Hankla, Lester Turner and Debby Miede lay out the amphitheater at The Barbara J. Mapp Aviary Education Center on National Public Lands Day.

Aviary Committee members (left to right) Norm Miede, Charley Hankla, Lester Turner and Debby Miede lay out the amphitheater at The Barbara J. Mapp Aviary Education Center on National Public Lands Day.

 these past couple of years, but also by the efforts of a devoted FORL board and staff, by the support of TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau, Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill and State Parks Director of Operations Mike Robertson, by TWRA’s wildlife specialist Walter Cook, and by the hard-working rangers and park staff who assist Steve in the day-to-day management of this incredibly busy state natural area. And there are so many more team players, such as project architect Marion Fowlkes, a key member of the committee from early on, the Baron Construction team, John Carpenter, who has volunteered his time and considerable engineering expertise, and all the other contractors and suppliers for the project, many of whom have also generously donated time and materials (NES, Nashville Wire, Stansell Electric, to name a few). Just as important are the never-ending streams of volunteers that have cumulatively invested so much time and sweat at the facility, and, of course, all those individuals and other donors who have already given financially to the cause. It has been a community effort indeed!

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Jimmy Stansell (on left) with the team from Stansell Electric who set all of the utility poles at The Barbara J. Mapp Aviary Education Center.

Yet, more remains to be done. Not only completion of the aviary, but the Education Building itself is getting a significant facelift. Then there is the need for sustainability. To that end, it is critical to ensure that in the years ahead, the aviary residents are properly fed and cared for, the center is managed and maintained at the highest standards, and the wildlife and other environmental education programming thrives. Only further funding, staffing and volunteer time can make that happen. So, this is not only a huge THANK YOU to all who have brought the project to this point, but also an appeal to all the partners, stakeholders and entire community: Let’s please continue to do whatever we can to both Help It Fly and then Keep It Flying!

Look forward to seeing you all out there this spring.