Tom and Cheryl Millham of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care are moving forward with long-envisioned plans to relocate and expand their wildlife rehabilitation center in South Lake Tahoe.
Substantial donations and a lease for almost 27 acres of undeveloped land near Al Tahoe Boulevard and Pioneer Trail are allowing the nonprofit to move ahead with a two-phase project estimated to cost $10 million to $12 million in all.
“This has been a dream Cheryl and I have had for probably 25 years,” Tom Millham said. “We really thought about this in 1990 when we added on our garage and the clinic upstairs. We thought we had something special and a long-term dream.”
The Millhams started Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care in 1978.
Operating out of their home and backyard on a 0.75 acre property on Cherry Hills Circle, the nonprofit has cared for more than 24,000 injured or displaced animals and birds. More than 14,000 of those animals have been successfully returned to the wild. It’s the only wildlife rehabilitation center authorized to treat black bears in the state of California.
Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care has been raising money for the planned move and expansion for years. It received a donation from the estate of Barbara Hartoonian and is leasing 26.99 acres of land from the Springmeyer Family Partnership.
In announcing the relocation and expansion Saturday, the Millhams thanked Hartoonian and Marjorie Springmeyer as well as her daughter-in-law Bonnie and Bonnie’s three children, Erin, Sara and Ryan.
“While these two families were very instrumental in making this dream a reality, there has been uncountable generosity from all parts of the globe in keeping Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care functional over the years and we thank each and every one of you,” the Millhams said.
The project’s first phase is estimated to cost about $2.5 million. It will include a new wildlife rehabilitation center with more and larger cages for animals, a maintenance garage and a caretaker house. Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care wants to get all needed permits for that work in place this year to break ground on May 1, 2015, and move in 2016, Tom Millham said.
Meanwhile, the nonprofit will continue to push forward with a second phase that will require significantly more funding.
Phase two includes a 10,000-square-foot education center with monitors for people to watch the animals, an in-house hospital and sterile surgery room with examination and receiving rooms, a café and gift shop, an amphitheater and a 300-seat conference room.
Plans also include a sanctuary to permanently house animals that cannot be released back into the wild, either because they were too severely injured, or as is the case with some bears, because they became too habituated to people for food or survival.
“We’ve never turned away a bird or animal, but this definitely will give us more availability to take care of them from the area and from the region. The bear cage will be 10 times the size it is now, and we will have long-term housing for bears and other animals that cannot be released back into the wild,” Tom Millham said.
Tom Davis, a member of the South Lake Tahoe City Council and Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care’s board of directors, said the move and expansion is one of the best things to happen to the community in years. The new facility will not only benefit wildlife, but also be a huge attraction and draw for the area, he said.
“This is huge for South Lake Tahoe to have this in our town, in our city limits,” Davis said about the project, joking that after 36 years the Millhams will finally be getting their house back.