Application submitted for new falconry school

MANCHESTER - After a month absence, the sport of falconry may make its return to Manchester.

On March 28, Jeffrey Nyweide and Shelly Gibson submitted an application to the town that, if approved, would allow what has been pasture land to be used as a location for a new falconry school.

The application will be discussed at the next Development Review Board meeting that is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

"It requires conditional use approval, which is why it goes in front of the development review board," said zoning administrator Allison Hopkins.

The British School of Falconry, which operated out of Hildene and was used almost exclusively by the Equinox Resort and Spa, closed last November after 18 years.

The proposed site is located at 527 Benson Road in Manchester and the school would be owned and operated by Robert Waite, the former manager of the British School of Falconry.

According to Waite, if the application is approved, the tentative plan is to enter into a lease agreement with Nyweide and Gibson and open Green Mountain Falconry School.

When the British School of Falconry closed in November, the birds - which included 14 Harris Hawks, two eagles and a falcon - were divided between Waite and senior instructor Dawn Decrease. Currently, Waite has five Harris Hawks, an eagle and a falcon that are currently being housed on his property.

The British School of Falconry was notified by Hildene at least three years ago that they would eventually have to relocate. During that time, about a dozen potential locations were examined, but none proved to be a viable option for relocating the school.

"I'd thought I'd exhausted all the possibilities because we'd had about three years notice that the British School of Falconry was going to have to relocate," said Waite. "So, I spent those three years trying to find a suitable site for the British School of Falconry and failed. And then I guess [in] late summer, early fall (of last year) is when I first heard about the potential for the site that I'm hoping to use."

The new location came about because Nyweide and his family had been through the falconry and archery programs at the British School of Falconry and when they heard that the school was closing they offered the use of their property as a new location.

If Waite is successful in opening the school, he said it would be operated seasonally from May until the end of October.

If it were to come to fruition, Waite said he believes he may well have a number of patrons as he has compiled a long list of people who - in the time since the British School of Falconry closed - are interested in finding out if and when his school will open.

"That was definitely a factor that gave me encouragement to just sort of dig my heels in and keep charging ahead here because it has been a bit of a struggle getting everything together and continues to be with the permitting," said Waite. "But knowing that there is a huge interest is a luxury that many new businesses don't have. So, I know I have a huge number of people that are very, very behind this. They're wanting to come back. Ready to come back."

In addition, Waite said that while the Green Mountain Falconry School will be an independent school he would still have a connection with the Equinox Resort and Spa.

"I'm very much tied in with the hotel. They'll be marketing me. I'll be on their website and so I will be offering lessons to their guests," he said.

When the British School of Falconry was operating in Manchester, co-founder of the school Emma Ford said that it was popular since its inception. During its 18 years of operation, about 50,000 went through the program.

Due in part because to the amount of people that went through the program while it was in Manchester - which was somewhere between 2,000 to 3,000 annually - Ford said she believes the school is a good thing for the town.

"I think it brings people into the area," she said. "People come and then inevitably they're going to go shopping and they're going to eat in restaurants and that sort of thing."

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