Cyclists set out to raise awareness about birds of prey and to raise money for the Carolina Raptor Center.
The Brandon Hills Annual Raptor Ride celebrated its third year of pairing cyclists with bird preservation and rehabilitation and wine.
David and Pam Blackwell, owners of Brandon Hills Vineyard, started the ride in 2009. The proceeds from the event go directly to the Carolina Raptor Center, which is located in Huntersville.
David became acquainted with the Carolina Raptor Center while he was a student at UNC-Charlotte. At the time, the center was located in the basement of the university. Since learning about the center and its work, David has wanted to be involved.
In 2005 the Blackwells decided that they wanted to open a vineyard. By 2009 they were ready to open the doors of their tasting room and needed to decide on a name for their signature red wine.
“We had a nesting pair of red-shouldered hawks at our other house and every spring we would watch them come and spruce up the nest and then leave their young and we would watch the whole process,” David said. “We came up with the name Raptor Red out of that.”
David decided that he wanted to find a way for the vineyard and the Carolina Raptor Center to partner and set to combine it with his passion for cycling.
The first Raptor Ride was held in 2009 and began a tradition of placing a picture of a permanent resident bird at the Carolina Raptor Center on the Raptor Red Wine bottles. A rehabilitated bird of the same species is also released at the ride each year prior to riders taking off.
“We have a huge amount of land and they need a place to release the birds away from intersections and highways so they don’t get hit and so we just enjoy being able to do that,” Pam said.
This year the center released a red-shouldered hawk. The permanent resident that will be featured on the 2012 Raptor Red wine bottles will also be a red-shouldered hawk named Lakota.
“This bird has been with us a little over 70 days,” said Jim Warren, executive director of the Carolina Raptor Center. “It came to us from Mecklenburg County and so we’re very proud to be able to get it in, treat it and get it back out.“
The ride offers cyclists three options: a 20, 40 or 60-mile route. Riders pay $30 to $50 to ride in the event depending on when they register and their registration secures them a t-shirt, a meal following the ride and a complimentary wine tasting. All of the proceeds from the ride went to the Carolina Raptor Center as well as $1 for each bottle of Raptor Red that was sold.
“This event is one of our largest benefiting events,” Warren said. “I really want to thank David and Pam because this is an effort of love on their part. We’re one of the largest facilities in the United States. We set a record last year with birds admitted, birds treated and eagles brought in. These riders should be very proud of the work that’s going on there.”
The Carolina Raptor Center also partners with Brandon Hills Vineyard when it’s time to release new wines. Each new wine release features a special dinner at the tasting room and the release of another rehabilitated bird from the center.
David said that he plans to keep improving the quality of the ride each year but he does not have plans to increase the size.
“This is the third year for the ride,” David said. “The first year we had 90 riders, the second year we had 180 riders and this year we set a limit of 250 riders and we sold out well before the ride. If I didn’t put a limit on it I could have 1,000 people show up here and I can’t offer a quality experience if I don’t limit the number of people.”
David said that he rides in the event each year so that he can experience it first hand and make notes where improvements can be made. He also sends out a post-ride email to all participants to allow them the opportunity to offer suggestions or requests for future rides.
“This year the ride evolved a little bit and this year was the best ride that we’ve had,” David said. “The quality of the ride keeps getting better. I saw some improvements that could be made and next year’s ride will be even better than this year’s ride. “
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.