WABASHA, Minn. — Each day, Meg Gammage-Tucker checks in on the birds and gazes out on the river.
A week into the job, she doesn't expect it to get old anytime soon.
"I love the river," Gammage-Tucker said. "I love being able to see eagles flying over it and being free, being healthy and being enjoyed. That whole experience is magical to me."
The new CEO of the National Eagle Center – she replaces Rolf Thompson, the former executive director, who stepped down in October. Gammage-Tucker comes to Wabasha from Louisville, Ky., where she lived and worked primarily as a consultant for nonprofits.
But her background is more than fundraising and advising clients on how to build a board of directors. Gammage-Tucker is a past president of the Rhino Trust. She and her husband, Aaron Cleveland, have also hand-raised raptors: an eagle owl and a European hawk.
"I love raptors," she quickly proclaims. "I've always had a special place in my heart for eagles and raptors. I just think they're fascinating and beautiful."
In fact, she and Cleveland have a business where they have built exhibits for museums and zoos, and they've been working on a raptor exhibit, she said.
With a background in nonprofits management, conservation and museum management, Gammage-Tucker said when she saw the job at the Eagle Center it felt like the perfect time to bring all her experience together for one important task.
Coming into the job at this time, Gammage-Tucker said, is perfect timing. While the Eagle Center has detailed plans in place for expansion, there is still plenty of work to be done to make that goal happen.
The planned $18 million expansion will include a 125-seat theater for classes, more room to take care of the center’s live eagles, space for the Preston Cook Collection – 25,000 pieces from fine art to Americana all about eagles – to be stored and exhibited, and room for the Eagle Center grow into the future.
"The Cook Collection adds the cultural, the literal, the historical, the contemporary," Gammage-Tucker said. "It adds that whole new dimension. Rotating that through is going to give all of our visitors, on a regular basis, something new to look at all the time."
She said she wants to ensure the Eagle Center never becomes stagnant, and even has an eye toward digitizing the Cook Collection so people can find items of interest even if they're not currently on display.
What's not in those building plans, she said, is a goal to do more to take the Eagle Center out and about through traveling exhibits and more outreach.
All this while maintaining the center's excellence in education and conservation. From the eagle tours to the daily classroom presentations, Gammage-Tucker said the bald eagle is a great story from it's position in our culture to its success as a species in the conservation movement.
All those messages, she said, make the Eagle Center a compelling place to learn.
"My goal is to make this place truly national," Gammage-Tucker said. "We're absolutely a No. 1 destination in Minnesota and regionally. But we are the National Eagle Center. We've been designated that."
That means growing membership regionally and nationally, she said. But it also means finding more ways to make the Eagle Center part of the community of Wabasha. She'd like to see the Eagle Center front and center at everything from Grumpy Old Men Days each February to SeptOberfest each fall.
"Those are the things percolating in my mind," she said.