PINETOP-LAKESIDE — Last year was a difficult year for most of the non-profits on the Mountain due to the pandemic. But, this year, the White Mountain Nature Center (WMNC) put on a ROUND UP Annual Fundraiser Dinner on Saturday, Sept. 18, at their own facility and rounded up over $10,000. They topped off the event with a big announcement regarding a partnership with Land On Sky Wildlife Experiences.

Supporting the WMNC, 120 cowboys and cowgirls all dressed up in western attire and showed up for a Western BBQ Dinner and dessert auction, followed by a live auction.

The dessert auction, as usual, was popular and the top dessert this year went for $200. It was Charlie Clark’s famous peach cobbler in its own cast iron skillet.

The top bid item at the live auction was $600 for a gorgeous silver bead necklace.

The climax of the evening was a big surprise. WMNC announced that they have entered into a partnership with Land On Sky Wildlife Experiences, a non-profit based out of Phoenix, to establish a free-flight educational raptor experience at WMNC.

Land On Sky was established in 2014 with the goal of “introducing animals to people in a way that leaves them with lasting appreciation and reverence for the natural world and its inhabitants.”

The principals of Land On Sky are Certified Professional Bird Trainers Balinda Strosnider and John Glitsos. They have spent nearly 15 years doing educational programs for groups, schools and private functions throughout Arizona. They have also introduced hawks, falcons and eagles for over a decade at the Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area with U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

Strosnider and Glitsos are also entertainers. They have produced and starred in stand-up and improv comedy shows and use their show experience as a tool to educate people in a fun way.

“People want to be entertained, not educated,” said Strosnider. “But our conservation and animal welfare messages are designed to touch their hearts and their minds. At the end we are going for conservation action which is based on an emotional attachment to nature and the animals that share our environment.”

The Raptor Flight Show, which they will deliver, is anticipated to be a world-class attraction for locals and visitors.

Their popular featured feathered entertainer for their presentations is Garfunkel, or “Funky” as he is known – named after Art Garfunkel of Simon & Garfunkel. He is a two year old magnificent Eurasian Eagle Owl who belongs to Land on Sky. He has a wingspan of more than six feet and, depending upon the time of year, weighs between four and five-and-a-half pounds. He has been entertaining audiences for over a year. Funky has learned a number of behaviors which he can perform on cue through positive reinforcement training.

Celebrity that he is, Funky has his own coloring book and social media page — Funky the Owl on Facebook and on Instagram @funkytheowl.

Land on Sky’s newest acquisition is a red-tail hawk named RTH Speedwagon, or Speedy for short. Keeping the musical name theme going, Glitsos says Speedy’s name is obviously a takeoff on the band REO Speedwagon. Speedy was acquired just last week from a nature center in Pennsylvania.

Funky and Speedy are to arrive in the summer of 2022. A Harris’s Hawk, two falcons and a number of other raptors will join them in the shows. And, in addition, “the staging, scripting and production aspects of the shows are being assisted by the company that runs the bird show at the world’s largest theme park in Florida.”

Donations have already begun to come in to WMNC to help build a home for the raptors and an adjoining amphitheater where they will perform. The amphitheater will seat 250 guests and will also be a community resource for other events.

There is already support for the project both locally and beyond. Numerous contractors and government entities in the White Mountains are on board and contributing to the project in myriad ways.

Glitsos and Strosnider will be offering free training shows on a daily basis as they prepare for their formal program once they arrive. They use the most modern methods which they say “works for other animals like household pets and even kids that won’t listen!” Glitsos says they love to answer questions about their training method, especially the most asked “how to” questions.

WMNC Vice President Jim Snitzer, who is also a council member for the Town of Pinetop-Lakeside said, “This will become one of the most visited venues in the White Mountain Region. The programming is designed to appeal to families with children which are a major component of our tourist demographic. And, the opportunities to volunteer or watch beautiful animals interact with the skilled trainers is a life-changing experience. My appreciation for animals and nature increased ten-fold after just an hour with them.”

WMNC was established in 2003 with the vision to connect people through nature, education and wildlife. It is located on 10 acres in Lakeside, adjacent to the Big Springs Environmental Study Area, with five acres leased from the Town of Pinetop-Lakeside on its Mountain Meadow Recreation Complex. It is on Woodland Road. It is also a non-profit.

More information about volunteering, becoming a member or donating to the raptor project can be found on WMNC’s website at www.wmcenter.org.

Reach the reporter at bbruce@wmicentral.com

Barbara Bruce is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering arts and entertainment on the Mountain and the Pinetop-Lakeside town government.

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