Genesis Wildlife: A New Beginning

Article Published: Jul. 28, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Genesis Wildlife: A New Beginning

Answering the telephone, Leslie Hayhurst comforts the frantic caller who just discovered an injured bird in his backyard.

"I'll be there as soon as possible," she said.

The director for Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary in Beech Mountain, Hayhurst responds to hundreds of phone calls every year regarding injured and abandoned wildlife. Recently, she has also fielded numerous calls from High Country visitors and residents who want to know what happened to Genesis' visitor center.

Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary's one-time rehabilitation center, located in a geodesic dome adjacent to Buckeye Recreation Center, was a major point of interest in Beech Mountain for more than 10 ten years. Thousands came to see the hawks, owls, raccoons, wolves and the other animals that resided there. Today, those who stop at the facility will find the doors closed and the outdoor habitats emptied.

"People are constantly calling me, wanting to know what's going on," Hayhurst said. "We're still here, but we're going through a transition."

Hayhurst admits Genesis Wildlife has experienced difficulty in the past few years, but she said the nonprofit animal rescue group is not down for the count. The organization continues to service the wildlife population and still provides educational programs across the High Country. Genesis is currently going through a re-establishment process that will reopen the doors of Genesis to the public in 2012, Hayhurst said.

Hayhurst, a retired ICU nurse, founded Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary in 1993 to respond to the overwhelming need of wild animal rescue in the High Country.

"No one else was doing this work in the area, so when something happened to the wildlife, the animals just died," she said.

The mission of Genesis is to rescue and rehabilitate injured, abused and abandoned wildlife, with the intention of releasing the animals back into their natural habitats. Animals unable to return to the wild are provided permanent refuge by Genesis and become a part of the organization's educational efforts.

"We always release anything that can be released," Hayhurst said.

In 1999, Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary obtained a lease from the town of Beech Mountain, which allowed it to open a half-acre public facility next to Buckeye Recreation Center. Genesis quickly became a celebrated attraction in the resort town. Hayhurst said up to 6,000 people visited the location every year.

Despite its popularity, Genesis Wildlife started encountering problems that caused the organization to lose momentum in recent years. Hayhurst said she would like to clear the air about what happened.

While there was no shortage of animals to serve or people to view them, a lack of necessary funds threatened Genesis. In early 2008, Genesis faced closing its doors, but developer John Turchin intervened, offering Genesis Wildlife 3 acres on his Banner Elk property, the Lodges at Eagles Nest.

Another benefactor provided a $150,000 donation to build a nature center for Genesis on the donated land. Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary continued, opening its new location at Eagles Nest in May 2009.

Within six months of the grand opening, it became apparent that Genesis Wildlife's presence at Eagles Nest would be short-lived. Lack of water and sewer at the new location forced Genesis to return to its Buckeye Recreation location before the end of 2009. The partnership between Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary and Lodges at Eagles Nest dissolved in 2010.

"It's been very confusing," Hayhurst said. "We thought it was going to be a perfect marriage. It just wasn't meant to be. It just didn't work out."

After moving back to its former home, Genesis Wildlife faced yet another obstacle. In July 2010, the sanctuary was notified by the town of Beech Mountain that it must close its outdoor animal habitats at Buckeye, due to N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources regulations. The animals housed at the compound were too close to the town's water source.

Undaunted, Hayhurst vowed to continue the mission of Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary. She had the animals, for which she could no longer provide a haven with other wildlife refuges. Then, she found a second property in Beech Mountain to house the remaining animals.

Hayhurst said the new rehabilitation center, located on Fireweed Lane in Beech Mountain, will be open for private tours, once completed.

Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary will continue to lease Buckeye Recreation Center property. The building is currently being renovated with the intention of accommodating the organization's educational programs.

"We plan to be operating out of the building again by June 2012," Hayhurst said. "Genesis will host programs a few times a week, including lectures and films."

With the help of a new executive board, advisors, fundraisers and dedicated volunteers, Genesis Wildlife is finding solid ground.

"We came very close to closing, but because of the help of some wonderful people, we've been able to continue operating," she said.

Hayhurst said there is still a wide array of needs, and there are plenty of ways those who are concerned about Genesis can help.

"Cash donations are much appreciated," she said, "but we also have a need for construction materials and labor, supplies for the animals, people who can be trained to help with rescues, and private property for release of wildlife."

Hayhurst is optimistic about the future of Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary.

"It may seem like we are starting all over again, but we're dedicated to making this work," she said. "My main goal in life is to help these animals."

For more information on Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary, call Leslie Hayhurst at (828) 387-4787.

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