Parrots close to finding new home |

Parrots close to finding new home

Naomi Havlen

A flock of local parrots may soon have a new, more spacious home for spreading their wings – on the Front Range.The Gabriel Foundation, a parrot sanctuary in Emma, may be moving to a 35-acre ranch in unincorporated Elizabeth, a small town in Elbert County 30 miles southeast of Denver. The new location is quadruple the size of the foundation’s current location, which straddles Pitkin and Eagle counties.Julie Murad, the executive director and founder of the nonprofit, said her first appearance before the Elbert County Planning Commission is scheduled for Feb. 10, followed by a hearing in front of the county commissioners. If all goes well, they’ll be moving “flock, stock and barrel,” she said. The organization adopts abandoned parrots and either places them for adoption or cares for them long term.The nonprofit’s history in the Roaring Fork Valley is a rocky one, having been ordered off a site in Gerbazdale in the late 1990s because of land use violations. Although Murad moved the nonprofit and her home to Emma in 1999, she was cited again by both counties in June 2003. She announced last September that she was planning to move rather than continue to struggle for approval.Neighbors in Emma complained that the foundation’s birds created a racket when placed in outdoor cages during warm weather, devaluing surrounding property.This time around, however, Murad sounds thrilled to have found a location that might fit the Gabriel Foundation’s needs. The prospective 35-acre spread was originally part of a large ranch that was subdivided into smaller parcels. Neighbors in the area use their parcels as ranches with horses and barns, and the area also hosts a large dog kennel.But perhaps most fittingly is a sanctuary in the area for large, exotic cats. It’s a fair distance away from where the foundation’s 200 parrots would reside, but further evidence that the county and local residents aren’t opposed to unconventional uses of the land.”I’ve talked to all of the neighbors, and they’re highly supportive,” she said. “The existing barn on the property will be remodeled for us, and we have plans to add two more buildings.”The buildings will have 12,000 square feet of everything the foundation needs, like housing for the parrots, a treatment room, space to quarantine the newest avian arrivals, a reception room for visitors and office space for the staff.In addition, the parrot sanctuary is dependent on a number of outdoor cages for the birds to fly in, and 25,000 square feet of outdoor room for the birds is planned.”It will be wonderful – we’ll have a couple of buildings that are connected with an outdoor flight,” she said. “There will be five separate outdoor flights, and altogether we’re quadrupling our current space.”The foundation is not, however, planning on quadrupling its parrots. Murad said the sanctuary is caring for 185 birds. The proposal to move to Elbert County includes topping the bird population at 200 to make certain that the foundation can be a good neighbor with a large number of birds.But it will request permission to “incrementally increase” their bird population to 350. The land has a home on it for Murad and her own 30 birds that live with her. There is also a pasture for the Gabriel Foundation’s various llamas, donkeys and sheep.”Our attorney and our planners tell us we have a really good chance at getting approval for this land,” Murad said. “And as soon as we do, we’ll close on the property.”The land will cost Murad and the foundation $1.25 million – they have a capital fund-raising campaign under way to help support the purchase and the cost of the move.Murad said the land already has rolling hills to buffer the sound, and she’ll be adding other landscaping and noise mitigation to help out.”We plan on being the premier facility of its kind in the United States,” she said. “We spent a long time looking for a place with suitable topography, a county whose regulations are friendly, and an area that was large enough. It was a big challenge.”Murad has lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for 40 years and still has family in this area. She said she will miss the valley but is asking people in this area to write letters to Elbert County, encouraging them to accept the parrot sanctuary.”It’s a truly nice thing for a county to have,” she said. “We’re a resource that would cost them nothing. They’re welcome to brag about having us there – we’ll be setting a precedent for the United States.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is

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