Returned to the wild: Carpenter Nature Center raptor release brought in about 3,000 visitors

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Saturday, Sept. 24, Carpenter St. Croix Nature Center (CNC) hosted one of its biggest events of the year. The fall raptor release is a day when the public is invited to CNC to watch a handful of predatory birds released into the wild after being rehabilitated at the University of Minnesota's Raptor Center.

According to the Raptor Center's website, the center rehabilitates about 800 sick and injured raptors per year and also works to identify environmental issues that affect raptor health and populations.

This year's event attracted about 3,000 people, said Jennifer Vieth, CNC's executive director. The turnout was terrific, she said, especially given that the day brought overcast skies and a few sprinkles of rain.

"For CNC it is always amazing how many people find us for the first time at the raptor release," Vieth said in an email. "We had many wonderful comments from 'first-timers' about the trails, the educational opportunities and the people (staff and volunteers)."

The event is a chance for CNC to do more than just release a few birds. The Raptor Center brings in a number of live educational raptors, from the little American kestrel to majestic bald eagles, that visitors can see up close and learn about from the experts at the Raptor Center. This year's event also featured the Minnesota Master Naturalists, Minnesota Master Gardeners, Herpetological Society and Dragonfly Society, all of which hosted educational tables for visitors.

The Raptor Center selects a handful of people to help them release the birds; these people are often longtime volunteers or supporters of CNC and the Raptor Center. This year, the Raptor Center surprised Vieth by having her release one of this year's birds, a 2-year-old bald eagle. Vieth accepted in honor of Thomas and Edna Carpenter, who had the foresight to protect CNC's first 325 acres 35 years ago, she said.

"Today CNC has grown into 725 acres, and we reach 35,000 people a year," Vieth said. "I like to think the Carpenters are smiling down on all that their gift has become and all that it means to our many visitors."