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Community Conversation Podcast: Feathered Co-workers

In this episode, we speak with Julie Collins, the Executive Director of the Cascade Raptor Center who tells the tale of what lead her to get involved with raptors. Julie shares, “The goal for us is that when people come up to the Raptor Center, they’re having an experience that brings them closer to nature, connects them to this natural world. And possibly, hopefully, you go home, and you want to make a little change, you want to do something, and it might be the slightest, the slightest adjustment in what you’re doing in your daily life.”

About Guests: 

Julie Collins (she/her) is the Executive Director of Cascades Raptor Center. She is an Oregon native, born and raised in Milwaukie. In 2015, after 15 years of living in Arizona, working in the medical field doing public relations, Julie and her family made their way back to the Pacific Northwest and set down roots in Eugene. As she settled into her life in Eugene, her son’s love for birds of prey inspired Julie to start volunteering at the Center. She joined the staff in 2017 and served for five years as Development Director, coordinating a variety of efforts from fundraising and donor relations to operational management and strategic planning. In September 2022, she was hired as Executive Director. Julie is committed to focusing on Center’s mission while also helping the Center expand and lay foundations for the future.  

Learn More:  

Cascades Raptor Center is a Nature Center and Wildlife Hospital. If you have a Wildlife Emergency call their raptor hotline at 541-485-1320 ext. 1. 

Episode Notes: 

Museums for All 

Arts for All 

Cara (she/her): Hello and welcome listeners. My name is Cara Bryton and I serve as the Education and Community Engagement Coordinator at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts. Our intention with this Community Conversation podcast is to go a little deeper by interviewing community members on subjects related to select performances. On today’s episode, we will be speaking with one of our changemaker community partners, the Cascade Raptor Center. Speaking on the center’s behalf will be Julie Collins, who is the Executive Director. The Cascade Raptor Center is a nonprofit nature center and wildlife hospital that was founded in 1987. The center is open to the public year-round and home to nearly 35 resident education raptors, most who are native to the Pacific Northwest. The center’s mission is to foster connection between humans and birds of prey. 

So welcome Julie and thank you for being here with me today. I wanted to just begin by asking how the center is doing since being impacted by the January ice storms. I know there was a lot going on, so we’d love to hear how you all are holding up. 


Julie Collins (she/her): Thank you for having me on today. Sorry about that, I had a little frog. And that I think is the perfect question to start with. The center, we are doing very well. We have had so many community members, businesses, donations, donations of like actual physical work, plus the monetary donations that have come in. We’re doing very, very well. Our cleanup process, we put it into fast forward because we really wanted to open back up to the public as soon as possible. For individuals that did not know, the ice storm impact for us was quite severe. We had varied from frozen pipes that were bursting when things were thawing out to having trees fall and sorry to say, take out a couple of our aviaries completely. Luckily, no birds were injured in that process, but it was, I’m sure, very frightening for those animals. Plus, we were out of electricity for almost two weeks. We had a pole come down, which then took out our lines. So, our neighbors also were affected by that, which we were feeling guilty about, even though it wasn’t our fault. We definitely have spent a lot of time preparing through the years for these types of emergencies, but you can’t always predict everything obviously, and nature is very unpredictable. So, we do our best with a lot of emergency action planning, but sometimes it’s a matter of the cleanup process and how you’re going to handle this situation, which I think we did quite well, and we’re excited to say we’ve been opened up for about a month now, a little over a month actually, and the community has been coming up and getting to experience the birds and see a little bit of the changes of what it is like at the center right now. So, people will come up and tell me that, wow, it even looks cleaner than before. I think a lot of it is that it’s more open. We lost a lot of our canopy with the foliage, trees and limbs falling down. So that’s something that automatically makes your landscape look different. And so that’s one of the things that I think people are really noticing. And we will be continuing to rebuild aviaries this spring, hopefully have those done this summer. Luckily, we had some spare aviaries that were not being housed right now with birds. And so, we were able to move the two birds that lost their homes into some holding spaces for a while.  

Cara: Awesome. I’m so yeah, thank you for sharing that update with everyone And I think it just goes to show like the love the community has for the Raptor Center That it was outpouring that way. So that’s great news 

Julie: Thank you, and we have made a lot of new friends in this time also. So that blew us away. Over a thousand new donors and businesses that maybe didn’t know about us or had never reached out before. So, it’s been absolutely amazing to have that. And as a nonprofit, that’s what we need to continue to thrive. 

Cara: Yes, and like the positive power of social media, right? Getting the word out. Yeah. 

Julie: Yep, that and the press releases. Yep, the press and media, that helps so much. 

Cara: Awesome, wonderful. Well, I’d love to also just learn more about you, Julie. Yeah, if you want to share anything about your background or how you first got involved at the Raptor Center, I’d love to hear. 

Julie: Yes, yeah, it’s a little non-traditional, which I don’t know when it comes to a Raptor Center what would be traditional. But for myself, I lived here in the late 90s and then my family and I moved back to Eugene, Oregon in 2015. And at that time, my son, who was 11, he’s 19 now, he loved the Raptor Center. He received for his birthday a membership to the Raptor Center. 


And I myself was in a bit of a transition from working full-time where we lived in Arizona to not needing to work quite as much and staying home with the kids a bit. And actually Morgan, my son, he suggested that I volunteer at the Raptor Center. And it was funny because I’m like, all right, kid, whatever. And started thinking about it and decided to look into it more. We lived very close to the center. And so, I started volunteering that year. It was at the beginning of 2016. 

And I was a resident care volunteer. So, I was helping clean aviaries and prep food and support our training team. And through that, just started listening, seeing what was going on at the center. And one of the needs was, is they needed some help with their events and fundraising. And that my background, I worked in the medical field for 20 years almost. And I had done a lot of different jobs in the medical field, but my last job was I was a liaison. So, my job was to go out and represent the hospital I worked for in the community. And so that was something that I was very used to, and I could take my skillset there and bring it into the work at the Raptor Center. And so, I volunteered and then I was hired on in 2017 for events and fundraising and through the years development and. 

 It’s kind of history. I’ve been here ever since and absolutely love it. I was the development director and when our founder made the decision to retire, Louise Schimmel, she retired in March of 2022. And we decided to open up and look for a new executive director, which you might laugh. But for myself, I was actually a part of that hiring process because we had a goal, and we knew what we wanted to look for. And sometimes you don’t realize that you are yourself that fit. And so, the board came back to me after we did a long interview process and had interviewed a lot of candidates, and they asked if I would rethink my decision and apply for the position. So that’s what happened. And I started as the executive director September 2022. And I’ve been doing that ever since. 

Cara: Beautiful. I love that. Like, yeah, just learning that trajectory, but you know, the unknown. Beautiful. Yeah. And so, I want to ask you an even deeper question. What is your favorite Raptor at the center?  

Julie: Cara, that’s like asking which kid is your favorite. I feel like that’s a hard one. So, I will tell you that owls have a special place in my heart. And one of my favorite owls, she passed away this last year, Ravi, Western Screech Owl. And so that was pretty hard, but we have many beautiful birds here at the center. And so, what I would say is I have favorite birds for different reasons or certain situations. Their personalities especially when you spend a lot of time with them. People don’t, I don’t know if all the people realize how smart and the things that birds and animals are able to realize. Like they recognize their trainers and their staff members. So, Lorax, she’s our great horned owl that the media and a lot of the public knows because she was the owl that her aviary was ruined during the storm. 

So, Lorax, she recognizes a lot of us. And so, she makes calls to us. And so, she definitely has a special place in my heart. And it always feels good when a bird recognizes you. And unlike the trainers and a lot of the staff that are out with the birds all the time, as the executive director, a lot of times I’m behind the desk. So, I try to get over there and see them. 

But I mean, I could probably tell you a story about every single bird we have here. We have 33 residents and why that bird has a little special place in my heart and this bird has a little special place in my heart. But it’s just, yeah, I love them all. And that sounds so much like a mom. But it’s kind of true. 


Cara: I love it. Aw, thanks for sharing. And then, you know, going back further, I always am curious about, you know, childhood and were you interested in environmental issues back then? Like were your parent’s environmentalists? 

Julie: No. As a child, I grew up outside Portland, Oregon in Milwaukee, Oregon, in the suburbs. And I would not say that we were overly environmentalists. We definitely enjoyed the outdoors and spent a lot of time in the outdoors. So, for me, it’s very comfortable to be in the outdoors and doing those types of things. I would say in junior high and high school, a lot of my friends were very interested in what the environmental things going on and saving the planet and what that looked like in the 90s. And for myself, I think that, so when I lived down in Arizona, everyone called me granola. You’re so granola. And I think there’s certain things when you grow up in the Northwest that become ingrained in you. And some of it’s because of where we live and it’s so beautiful and we want to save this area. But I would say that definitely through my adult years is what I became even more passionate about environmental issues along with embracing nature and being out in nature. 

Cara: Wonderful, thank you. And then I wanted to return to the mission statement of the Raptor Center that I shared at the beginning. The work you all do helps to foster connection between humans and birds of prey. And I really enjoy looking through the website and ways you do this, and there’s so many ways, but I wonder if you can highlight a few ways with us. Yeah. 

Julie: Yeah, definitely. The goal for us is that when people come up to the Raptor Center, they’re having an experience that brings them closer to nature, connects them to this natural world. And possibly, hopefully, you go home, and you want to make a little change, you want to do something, and it might be the slightest, the slightest adjustment in what you’re doing in your daily life. And so, for us, we’re trying to give experiences up here that not only a wow factor and excite people and get them going but also help them start thinking a little bit because the birds that you’re seeing in these aviaries and I should just say um I always want to reiterate this so the resident birds that live in the nature center those birds are living out their lives at Cascades Raptor Center as ambassadors for their species so they’re helping us to make those connections I say they’re my my feathered coworkers, they’re professionals at this job. And then behind the scenes, what people aren’t seeing is we have a wildlife hospital that we’re open 365 days a year, we have a wildlife hotline where you can call. And it doesn’t mean that you only can call if it’s about a bird. If you have a question, you know you live in Eugene, we have a lot of wildlife, we’re here to answer those questions for you. But we also see around 500 birds in the hospital with ultimate goal to release them back out into nature. And so that population of birds, they’re the ones that you’re not going to see, but by visiting the Nature Center and experiencing the Nature Center and paying that admission, you’re helping to fund the hospital so that we can continue to do that important work and keep those animals as wild as they can be, what they are supposed to be. And that’s what the goal is. We do, through our Nature Center, we have where you can come up. 


We have a wooded trail system. It’s real pretty up here. If you have not been here before, we’re on the backside of Spencer’s Butte off of Fox Hollow. It’s where the Ridgeline Trail System starts. There are parking lots across the street from us. And we have this lovely backside of a hill with all different trails. And then the aviaries are set around that natural landscape. And so, you can take a self-guided tour and walk around and see these. 

Julie: Right now, 33 birds that are on display that are working with trainers in all different ways. A lot of birds are coming out and being able to meet guests and you’re able to see a bird like up close. And these birds are very used to and comfortable with not only their trainers, but with the public. So, you can come stand right up next to that bird and look at this kestrel that maybe you’ve seen on a telephone wire when you’re driving, or electrical wire when you’re driving along out in the beautiful valley, but you have never got to see this little kestrel up close, and this beautiful coloring that they have, and the adaptations that they’ve been able to make. So, we share a lot of that.  

We are going to be bringing in some new programming this summer. We’re very excited about, we’re starting some flight shows. So, people are going to be able to see our birds out flying also, which is very exciting. And so, when you come up and visit the center in the next couple of months, you’ll start seeing that we’ll have a board listing some of the encounters and experiences throughout the day that you can experience. We also have programming. So, we have onsite programs we really push coming up to the center, if at all possible, for your programs, because you’re going to be able to experience so much more compared to when we did offsite programs. And so that’s one of the things that we’ve really tried to embrace with COVID. There was a lot of different things with the pandemic that we had to change, but also what we realized is that the experiences that groups get when they come up to the Raptor Center is just so valuable that we’re really trying to embrace that and help in whatever way we can to get these groups to come up and visit. So, if you go to our website, which is you’ll see that there’s all different programs. There are programs from like if you have a large group to some more, I don’t know what you call them, elite maybe, or specialized personal tours. So yes, the pricing’s different there, but that’s for a group of two to four people where they can see more of the behind the scenes and what it’s like to be a trainer and work with these birds and those type of special fun treats. 

Cara: Awesome. Thank you for sharing all of that. I haven’t been to the center myself, but my little one has with their uncle and yeah, just Won’t stop talking about it. So, I got to get out there soon! 

Julie: That’s great. That’s what we want. We want people to come up and visit and then go home and tell everyone about us and what’s going on so that hopefully we can continue to just have visitors and people that want to interact and learn more. 

Cara: Awesome. And so, before we close, I just wanted to, of course, thank you, but also give you an opportunity to share anything else about the Center. 

Julie: So just to let people know, we’re getting into spring season. This is a great time of year. We have more daylight, so we’re able to be open longer at the Raptor Center. So, we are open Tuesday through Sundays, 10 AM to 5 PM, until time change happens again. Or if it doesn’t happen, we’ll do it sometime at the end of October. So, you have all summer to come up and visit and see what’s going on up here. We’re going to have some Night at the Raptor Center events coming back in this spring. And so, people can keep their eyes open for that. The dates actually should be shared the 1st of April and tickets will go on sale. It’s a fundraising way for us to continue to do the work that we’re doing. Plus, also just giving people an opportunity to have a special fun evening. Also, you’ll see some other events coming our way. So please keep an eye on our calendar. 

I just want to continue to thank the community here in Eugene and the surrounding areas. This is our over, we’ve been doing this over 35 years, I think now. And Louise Schimmel had this idea that she would help take care of raptors by and also educate at the same time. And we’ve been able to keep that dream alive and continue to progress it into what it is now. And we want to keep growing and we want to keep being involved in this community and finding ways to make sure that everyone can come visit, which I’ll add one more thing, just something that a lot of people don’t know about is we participate in something called Museums for All. And Museums for All is a free program that if you have a snap card, which is like a food stamp card, if you bring that up to the center, you can get a household of four people in for free. And that’s a way for us to make sure that we’re being equitable and making sure that anyone that wants to learn about nature and these beautiful animals can. So again, there’s always a way that we can make sure that someone can come visit us at the Raptor Center. 

Cara: Thank you for sharing all of that. And yeah, I was going to, if you weren’t going to say it, I was going to share about Museums for All, because I think it’s, yeah, it’s such an awesome program. We just started our Arts for All program at the Hult Center on select shows. So yes, yeah, we got a… No, it’s all good. 

Julie: That’s wonderful. A lot of our other, sorry for talking over you, a lot of our other community members, like museums and the Science Center, are participating in that also. So hopefully the public starts checking that out and gets to find out more about opportunities where they can visit these special places. 

Cara: For sure. Well, thank you again for being here today. We are really looking forward to hosting the Cascades Raptor Center, along with some other amazing changemakers at our next tabling event, the Passport to Adventure during the final changemaker performance of the season. Tickets are on sale now for Peter McBride and Kevin Ferdarko Into the Canyon-Between the River and Rim on Thursday, April 25th at 7 p.m. at the Hult Center. We hope that some of our listeners can make it. Thanks again, everyone.