PERRY  From walking a possum on a leash for exercise and rehabilitation to healing brown bats that have a white-nose syndrome fungus disease, Sanders Center Wildlife Conservation Canter at Sippo Lake Park saves and mends 2,000 wounded animals a year. 

The Center has been housed in a pole building built in 1986. It became a wildlife medical treatment center for animals when someone brought in a wounded squirrel for medical attention. 

The ongoing efforts of Stark Parks to preserve wildlife will be greatly expanded with the building of a new center over the next year. Stark Parks broke ground on the new center on April 12.

About the facility

Originally named the Sanders Center, the new 9,400 square foot, 12-room facility will be renamed to the Joseph J. and Helen M. Sommer Wildlife Conservation Center. It will be in the same area as the previous building at 800 Genoa Ave. NW at Sippo Lake Park.  

The center will cost $2.8 million with the majority coming from Stark Parks operating budget. It will include an updated clinic and exam rooms, an animal education exhibit area, a classroom, offices and public restrooms. It’s been designed by SOL/Harris Day Architecture and will embrace the natural surroundings by using natural materials and landscaped features. Summit Construction Company Inc. will complete the construction of the facility. 

Director Bob Fonte said the project couldn’t have been realized without the help of all the many partners along the way.

“Partnerships, partnerships, partnerships, Stark Parks couldn’t have survived for the past 50 years without all of the many partners helping us,” Fonte said.  “The new facility will continue to represent the theme of conservation. The original Sanders Center was built as a nature center but quickly began to respond to the needs of wounded animals. The new Center will continue that tradition of conservation and education,” he said. 

Fonte thanked Stark County Commissions, Friends of Stark Parks for the group’s fundraising efforts, all of the volunteers and SOL/ Harris Day among others. The new Center will have rooms dedicated to several of the donors including TK and Faye A. Heston, Alan and Rosalie Dolan and Dr. Gary Riggs. 

There are four additional buildings planned for the site that are awaiting funding. If funding is found, these outdoor enclosures will be constructed this year. 

Naming notes

The new name for the Center is in recognition of the lifelong commitment that Sommer and his wife, North Canton residents, have had for conservation and natural resources. Sommer worked to establish the Stark County Park District more than 50 years ago. The Stark County Metropolitan Park District was created and Sommer was named one if the first commissioners. 

He was named director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in 1985 and was instrumental in adding more than 1,600 acres to state nature reserves. Sommer was inducted into the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Hall of Fame in 1997 for his 20 years of service as director. 

Still active today, Sommer has served on the board of directors for Stark Parks and has pledged annual giving to the new wildlife conservation center in the name of his late wife, Helen. 

In the meantime

The staff and volunteers have a 60-percent release rate of the animals they care for and nurse back to health. Until the new Center is completed, wildlife is being carried for at Fichtner Park and Quail Hollow in Lake Township.