Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary turns 40!

Anyone who loves the outdoors, loves nature and loves fresh fruit is familar with the Gilcrease family.  Their family farm provided fresh fruit and veggies to a growing city in the 20th century. 

Today, that farm is a nature sanctuary and has been for 40 years.  They are celebrating their anniversary and are inviting all of us to join them.

From the R-J:

Love is in the air at Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary these days.

John the ostrich and his "girlfriends" are in mating season.

One pen over, a donkey mama tends to her foal, born the day after Valentine's Day. Sanctuary staff says you can call the baby Valentino.

A few paces away, you can find the ultimate love story.

A widowed orange-bill mute swan has found love in a black swan. The mute swan lost his mate -- the birds mate for life -- but has found himself a companion.

To witness all the drama for yourself, visit Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary at 8103 Racel St., which is gearing up for site upgrades.

About 1,500 abandoned birds and barnyard animals call the sanctuary home, although some migratory birds come and go. Bill Gilcrease started collecting and taking in abandoned birds in 1970. The sanctuary didn't become a nonprofit entity until 1991.

Although the sanctuary will turn 40 this year, it has been in the Gilcrease family since the 1920s and has seen a lot of changes to the property. An orchard neighbors the sanctuary and, at one point, a wildlife park with exotic animals was on the land. A former giraffe pen now houses a mule deer.

"All these years, it's been a preserve for birds, but it's so much more," Executive Director Sandra Salinas said.

But after decades of opening their wings to abandoned and rescue birds, staff has had to stop accepting new animals.

"It's not fair to the birds to take on any expansion at this time," Salinas said.

But a change is about to come.

The center recently received a grant for $500,000 from an anonymous donor and has begun eyeing plans to enhance cages and facilities and use more space on the 8-acre lot.

The sanctuary partners with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, and, each year, about 5,000 students come to the sanctuary for hands-on education programs. Salinas said the sanctuary will be able to rebuild cages and bird averies and explore green approaches to maintaining the grounds.

Other funds will go to educational programs, Salinas said. The sanctuary has opportunities for education in ornithology, paleontology, archaeology, agriculture and horticulture, she listed.

"We have things for (those in) preschool on up to college," she said. "Isn't that cool?"

Through on-site classes on animal wellness, presentations and tours, the facility encourages the thoughtful adoption of pets so the sanctuary doesn't become a dumping place for the abandoned animals.

Salinas grows excited when showing preliminary renderings of the future of Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary.

Historical landmarks will be honored, and educational gardens will find a new home, but new features such as a hummingbird and butterfly plaza are possible. Staff members and the sanctuary's board of trustees currently are taking proposals from architects and planners.

"It has so much potential," Salinas said.

The sanctuary will be holding an arts and crafts festival from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 24 and 25. Vendors, entertainment and carriage rides will be available for attendees.

Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Admission is $5 for adults, $1 for children under 12 years of age, and $4 for seniors ages 65 and over and military personnel. Special rates for class tours and large groups also are available.

For more information, visit www., call 645-4224 or e-mail info@naturesanctuary