Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care is rolling out its expansion plans, and with a lease for 27 acres at Pioneer Trail and Al Tahoe Boulevard, kicking off a major fundraising push to turn the proposed project into reality.
“The only confirmed detail right now is we have a lease with an option to purchase the property,” said Tom Millham, who has run the nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation center with his wife, Cheryl, for 36 years.
Working out of their home and small yard on Cherry Hill Circle, the Millhams have treated more than 24,000 wild animals and successfully released more than 15,000 back into the wild.
The couple searched for a suitable property for the proposed relocation and expansion for more than a decade. They recently signed a deal with Marjorie Springmeyer for the land, which sits between Pioneer Village and Pioneer Trail.
With $3.1 million in donations secured, Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care wants to start acquiring permits this year, break ground for phase one of the project in spring 2015 and move into the new facility in 2016. The cash on hand is nearly enough to build a larger rehabilitation center, maintenance garage and caretaker house.
“That’s our goal,” Tom Millham said.
Early proposals also call for a second phase with an education center, café, gift shop, sterile surgery room, amphitheater, 300-seat conference room and a sanctuary to house bears, coyotes, porcupines, bobcats, eagles, owls and other local animals that cannot be released back into the wild because they are too injured.
Such animals must be destroyed if they cannot be placed in a zoo or education center, so the sanctuary would provide a natural area for them to live out their days and a place for people to see them. “So many people want to see them. So instead of doing naughty things like putting out treats to see a bear, they could come see them” at the sanctuary, Cheryl Millham said.
Tom and Cheryl Millham and Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care’s board of directors held a community forum about the project Monday at Lake Tahoe Community College.
“This is something that will be wonderful for our community, our children and most importantly, the animals,” Kathy Lovell, a volunteer with group, said about the project.
“The funding has been secured for the lease and project one, but we need your help for the second phase of this project. We’ve had donations from all over the world. It’s kind of time for us to not just be really happy and supportive, but to reach out to help. We need your help.”
Tom Millham wants to raise a total of $20 million. That would be enough to pay for both phases of the estimated $10 million to $12 million project and the rest would create an endowment to help pay for the center’s upkeep and operations, which are anticipated to total more than $600,000 per year.
A key word repeated often at Monday’s forum was “proposed.” The extensive project, estimated to cover about 110,000 square feet of the wooded property, is still in its earliest stages and must go through a cumbersome permitting process. It likely will require a general plan amendment from the city of South Lake Tahoe.
A handful of Pioneer Village residents attended the forum with questions or concerns about noise and traffic and other impacts such a facility could have on the area and their properties. The new center would occupy about a third of the 27-acre property, and its facilities would be at least 100 yards away from the nearest home.
“This is also my backyard and I’m very apprehensive about a lot of this, but I will keep an open mind,” one woman said.
Getting the property for the project was the major first step, Tom Millham said.
“We knew we couldn’t go after any big fundraising money until we got the property secured. That’s happened. So now that we have gotten at least to this point, now we can tweak the buildings to exactly what we need, to make them workable for the project, show people what our plan is and say we need some financial support,” Millham said.
“Everything’s coming together. There will be some bumps in the road. We expect those. But we’ll see. It’s going to be fun.”