Orange County Government, Florida
20 May 2016
Back to Nature Wildlife
Refuge Celebrates “Animal-versary”
[L-R] Orange County’s ‎Deputy Director of Community, Environmental & Development Services Lori Cunniff joins Orange County District 4 Commissioner Jennifer Thompson and Back to Nature Wildlife President Debbie Kleinberg at the Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge “animal-versary” on May 14, 2016.

Community leaders and local citizens came together to celebrate the three-year “animal-versary” of the Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge (BTN) at Eagles Roost Park during the organization’s annual open house.

Hundreds of attendees had the opportunity to learn about Orange County’s native wildlife species and ecology by participating in BTN’s guided hikes, nature classes, animal encounters and hands-on activities. Participants also enjoyed live entertainment, food trucks, vendors and games.

“Back to Nature is one of Orange County’s best kept secrets,” said Orange County District 4 Commissioner Jennifer Thompson. “As our County continues to evolve, it is significant that we are able to preserve this gem while also expanding educational opportunities and services to our residents – furry ones included.”

During the event, BTN President Debbie Kleinberg unveiled the “next big thing” – a goal for a new building on the property.

Commissioner Thompson said she supports the construction of the new building and has proposed the use of INVEST in Our Home for Life funds so that a permanent building can be utilized for wildlife rehabilitation and educational courses. The building may also include a community room for local residents to use, similar to facilities at other Orange County parks. Commissioner Thompson said funding for the building is currently awaiting approval by the Orange County Board of County Commissioners and is expected to be discussed at the budget workshops in July and voted on with the budget in September.

Mayor Teresa Jacobs’ $300 million initiative, INVEST in Our Home for Life, began a series of projects across Orange County that will provide long-term benefits to our citizens. Announced during Mayor Jacobs’ 2015 State of the County Address, INVEST in Our Home for Life will provide Infrastructure, New public safety facilities, Vibrant neighborhoods and affordable family housing, Enhanced recreation opportunities, Safety improvements for pedestrians, and Transportation connectivity throughout Orange County.

Thanks to conservative budgeting exercised by the Board of County Commissioners and an improving economy, Orange County will use existing resources to fund INVEST in Our Home for Life. This is made possible by leveraging improved sales tax collections from Orange County’s record-breaking tourism market, as well as increasing economic activity throughout the region. A combination of Orange County’s high credit rating, historically low interest rates and the rising cost of construction make this the best time to invest in long-term infrastructure and public safety needs.

BTN has been caring for wild animals for more than 27 years, with a mission to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured and orphaned Florida native wildlife. As a nonprofit wildlife refuge, the organization works around the clock to care for the animals to return them back to the wild.

Eagles Roost has been home to Back to Nature since 2014. The 232-acre conservation land near Lake Nona was purchased through the Orange County Green PLACE program. Through a partnership, Back to Nature operates a successful rehabilitation center on 20 acres of the property and provides on-site educational programs. Eagles Roost, which is seven times larger than the former Back to Nature location off East Colonial, features natural wetlands, a wildlife walk and an observation pier at Lake Hart.

To view photos from the event, visit Mayor Teresa Jacobs’ Flickr album.