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Washington Voices

West Valley Outdoor Learning Center holding open houses

Sat., July 30, 2011

For Harry Potter, visiting with owls is an everyday occurrence.

For the rest of us, there’s West Valley Outdoor Learning Center, 8706 E. Upriver Drive.

The center, run by Director Jami Ostby Marsh, has eight birds of prey within its walls, all of which have been injured in some way and can’t be released into the wild.

“If they’re not 100 percent better, we’re not allowed to release them,” said Autumn Eckenrod, an AmeriCorps intern who is working at the center.

Eckenrod said the OLC is a hands-on educational center. There are activities, snakes to hold, birds to see and learn about, turtles and animal pelts. Every year, students in the West Valley School District from kindergarten through the fifth grade visit the center three times a year. Outside groups like the Boy Scouts or retirement communities also visit. There is also a traveling show where employees take some of the animals to visit public libraries.

The center is holding a series of open houses this summer so everyone can visit.

During a recent open house, Amia Stephens and Valencia Burgess, who will be sixth-graders at West Valley City School this fall, gave tours and answered questions.

“This is our first day,” Burgess said. “It’s been really fun.”

Stephens and Burgess showed off Tilt, a 12-year-old western screech owl who had been hit by a car and is blind in one eye. This throws off his equilibrium, which gave him his name.

There is also Sadie, an American kestrel, who has had her wings clipped.

“She’s the loudest and meanest bird we have,” Stephens said.

There is also Hanovi, a great horned owl, who is well behaved enough to be outside of his cage, although tethered to a pole outside.

“He’ll snap at you and stuff, but he won’t bite,” Burgess said. She added that he could snap a broomstick in half.

“Sometimes they clack their beak together,” Stephens said of the owls.

“Or they hiss,” Burgess added.

When the two lead visitors over to Pants, a rough-legged hawk, they are especially reverent of the bird.

“She’s one of my favorites,” Stephens said.

“I think she’s the prettiest,” Burgess said. Pants, named for the feathers that look like pants on her legs, had part of one of her wings removed. The two said she will hop up and try to fly, but her injured wing prevents her.

The two girls explain what the birds eat and some of their other traits while they show people around.

“They eat mice or rats,” Burgess said. “The great horned owls eat rats because they are a little bigger.”

“The birds are expensive,” Eckenrod said. “They eat a lot.”

The cost of maintaining the center is absorbed by donations, the West Valley School District and some partnerships with corporations and other donors.

Eckenrod said there are many science stations around the center to teach students about water quality, water bugs and more.

This summer, there will be an all-girl science camp for West Valley students and camps throughout the year to expose students to the environmental sciences.

For Stephens and Burgess, the center has inspired them for their future careers.

“I like science,” Burgess said. She said she would like to work at the center someday. Stephens wants to teach fourth grade.

The two said they don’t mind giving up part of their summer to work at the OLC. They have been having fun, holding the tortoises, snakes and one of the birds.

“I think it’s more fun than sitting in your house,” Burgess said.

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