HUNTERSVILLE – Nearly 150 visitors checked out the Carolina Raptor Center in the first half-hour of its 30-year anniversary event April 16.

The anniversary commemorated the raptor center’s tenure on a 50-acre lot off Sample Road. It’s come a long way from humble beginnings in the basement of UNC Charlotte’s biology building, where it was for its first five years, Associate Executive Director Michele Miller Houck said.

“This is a milestone,” she said. “We’ve got 30 events to celebrate the last 30 years, but we’re also making a concerted effort to look forward to the next 30 years. It’s an important time for reflection, but it’s also an important time for us to plan the future. We’re excited to be able to announce some more great things in the future.”

The raptor center, which usually charges adults $10 and students $6 for admission, let everyone in for free throughout the day.

The center’s three-quarter-mile nature trail includes exhibits with 30 species of raptors, including bald eagles, golden eagles, ospreys, owls, falcons, hawks and vultures. It’s grown tenfold since it began as a project that wasn’t meant to house multiple species of raptors.

“Any time we have an opportunity to have a ton of people out here at Carolina Raptor Center, I get excited,” Miller Houck said. “We have a lot of passionate volunteers, 12 full-time and five part-time staff, who commit their time to helping out the raptor center, feeding birds, cleaning cages and taking care of the area.”

It’s not just a place residents can visit, she added. The raptor center has had visitors from outside the U.S. come by to see one of the nation’s largest collections of raptors.

The center sees more than 900 birds a year, brought in by the public, volunteers or animal control.

“We are an attraction that brings visitors to Charlotte,” Miller Houck said. “We have people from all over the world that come to the Carolina Raptor Center. Some of them make a special trip to Charlotte and the surrounding region to see the raptors here. We work hard to educate everyone about the species and let them see what we have.”