HUNTERSVILLE – A project 10 years in the making is coming to fruition at the Latta Plantation Nature Preserve.
A new home for the Carolina Raptor Center and county-owned preserve that borders the eastern side of Mountain Island Lake will break ground in September. Called Quest, the future 13,250-square-foot facility is a partnership between the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department (MCPRD) and the Raptor Center.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Michele Miller Houck, associate executive director of the Carolina Raptor Center. “We’ve been working hand-in-glove to make this a reality.”
Taking the place of the current nature center, which is roughly 2,500 square feet, Quest will have an expansive exhibit hall, indoor classrooms and a community room that can be reserved. The Raptor Center will have its own 200-seat amphitheater, new exhibits and a large classroom, as well as more parking and bathrooms. It’s 3/4-mile Raptor Trail will also be relocated adjacent to the new facility.
“It’s just a lot of things that make life easier for folks,” Houck said, noting that her organization has been working with the county for three years on what Quest will offer.
Chris Matthews, division director for MCPRD, said the budget for the new center is $8 million and that the current nature center will remain under operation during construction.
“We have yet to determine a use for the current center,” he said. “It could be repurposed.”
The county’s Steven’s Creek Nature Preserve in Mint Hill is also getting new digs, but Matthews said the one at Latta won’t be based on anything in place locally.
“We looked at other nature centers all over the country,” he said. “We used what we thought would work well for us. And we’ll try to avoid some of the mistakes they made. It’s not going to be perfect by any means.”
The Raptor Center’s hospital will relocate to the current visitor’s center, just down Sample Road. Houck said the new hospital will be more visitor-friendly. And some of the current Raptor Trail will be given back to the preserve, and some will turn into hospital enclosures.
Following a public hearing July 10 at a Mecklenburg County commissioners meeting, more than 11 acres of right of way on Sample Road was abandoned by the county to allow for the construction of a new entrance for the preserve, which will be closer to Beatties Ford Road.
County officials’ plans are for the new entrance gate to be closed when Latta Plantation, at the far end of the property, is closed. A gate is not allowed on a public street so the status of the road had to be changed. Also, in a document delivered to the county in March, North Carolina Department of Transportation officials stated a vehicle turnaround area would be constructed near the site of the proposed gate.
The Raptor Center is preparing to unveil a rebranding in conjuncture with the groundbreaking. It will officially be known as Carolina Raptor Center at Quest.
“We really wanted it to be a name that would stick in people’s heads,” Houck said of the moniker. “We want to connect with the audience by talking about the bird and human connection.”