The American Bald Eagle Foundation began with one man’s vision to create a facility that could increase the human understanding and appreciation of our national bird while contributing to the economy of Haines.The ABEF story started when David and Charlotte Olerud moved to Haines, Alaska from Minnesota in 1964.
After talking with community members, David Olerud felt a facility like the American Bald Eagle Foundation could fulfill that vision. Dave Olerud and his close friend Hans Fluehler founded the American Bald Eagle Foundation in 1982. Construction began in 1987 but was halted when a wall fell on Olerud’s back causing paralysis from the waist down.
It was at this time that Olerud met Edward Shirley, a Georgia man in the medical equipment business. Shirley who was an eagle scout as a boy, was intrigued by Olerud’s anecdotes. Both men exchanged stories of their mutual love, respect, and admiration for the bald eagle. When Shirley went back to Georgia, he decided he wanted to help out Olerud and the American Bald Eagle Foundation.
From that time forward, The Shirley Family Foundation has funded the ABEF internship program. This donation allows six interns to learn public speaking skills, the natural history of Southeast Alaska, and how to properly care for and train raptors each summer.
In 2001 The Shirley Family Foundation funded half of our museum expansion. Additionally, they have donated to multiple educational and research programs. Shirley passed away in 2005, but his legacy with the ABEF lives on with his daughter Susan Flowers, who serves as an executive trustee.
With Shirley’s help and the help of many other volunteers, July 14th, 1994 marked the grand opening of the of the American Bald Eagle Foundation. Dave Olerud emphasizes the importance of the many volunteers and well-meaning individuals that helped him open the doors to the ABEF in 1994.
The original museum was approximately 3,500 square feet and housed 61 specimens. Two staff members were hired in 1998, and in 1999 the first five interns were accepted into the internship program. In 2001, the first expansion to the museum was complete doubling the size of the museum.
In 2010, the second expansion of the museum was completed. In addition our first avian ambassador, a lanner-saker falcon hybrid, became the first bird at the raptor center at the American Bald Eagle Foundation. Since then, our avian team has grown to 11 individuals (please see the avian ambassador tab for more information).
In 2011, former trustee and raptor curator, Dan Hart developed the Youth Raptor Program which was the first of its kind in the U.S. to teach children about raptors while they learned husbandry and handling techniques.
In 2014, two more employees were hired creating for the first time in ABEF history, a four person full-time staff.
In 2015, the aviaries were modified for public viewing. The 21st annual Alaska Bald Eagle Festival marked the first private tours for the ABEF raptor program. With a Pre-Development Grant from the Rasmuson Foundation, the ABEF has been working with the Foraker Group to re-design the bird’s aviaries from the ground up. These plans include a free-flight space and a weathering yard so guests can connect with the birds in a closer setting. Stay tuned for more information on this project.
Today, the American Bald Eagle Foundation is three times the size it from when it began. We now house approximately 600 natural history specimens which are used to educated 10,000 guests each year.
Dave Olerud continues to be a driving inspiration behind the growth and changes within the American Bald Eagle Foundation. In the 22 years that the ABEF has existed, Olerud has given presentations to over 500,000 people about the stories of plants and animals in Southeast Alaska and Yukon Territory. We want to acknowledge the help of many other dedicated volunteers, trustees and donors. The ABEF would not be what it is today without support from community members across Haines and the nation. We hope that you stop in for one of Dave Olerud’s presentations and take a bit of Haines, and American Bald Eagle Foundation home with you.
The progression of the ABEF through the years