The Ellis Bird Farm ended the 2009 season on a high note thanks to record attendance and a long-awaited provincial grant coming through.
Myrna Pearman, biologist and farm services manager, is pleased how this three-month season shaped up for the Lacombe area tourist destination.
The farm, which opened on the May long weekend and closed its doors last weekend, saw its attendance jump by 3,000.
A total of 10,265 people visited the farm and tea house compared with 7,300 last season. Those numbers include students from school programs.
Pearman credits the increased traffic to people hearing and realizing what a great place the farm is.
Visitors can stroll the trails, enjoy the gardens and see the world’s largest outdoor collection of bluebird nestboxes. There’s also a visitor centre and tea house.
“We’re a wonderful, beautiful place and we’re close to Red Deer and there is no charge to visit,” Pearman said.
She also credited the farm’s success to an annual operating grant of $120,000 provided through corporate sponsor, MEGlobal, which runs a nearby petrochemical plant.
In late July, Ellis Bird Farm learned it had received a matching grant of $77,946 through the provincial Community Facility Enhancement Program.
Board chairman Cliff Soper applied for the grant a couple of years ago. Soper was unavailable for comment.
“It’s a matching grant so will have to come up with the same amount through our own funds and in-kind donations,” Pearman said.
Money is coming out of the farm’s funding reserves to help with key upgrades.
The grant will be used to add a new commercial kitchen that is about double the size of the current one found at the tea house.
Currently, staff work in a kitchen with crooked floors, and the indoor temperature can be unbearably hot in the summer.
It was added on to the tea house, so it will be dismantled without affecting the rest of the building.
Lacombe County has donated labour towards demolition.
Work can then begin on building the new one, which will be ready by next May.
The grant will also be used to upgrade the septic system for both the visitor centre and the tea house, and part of the water well system will be fixed too.