SALT LAKE CITY — There are a lot of signs of life beyond the locked gates of this 80-year-old Utah bird sanctuary.

While closed to the public since mid-March, anyone taking a daytime quarantine walk by Tracy Aviary’s grounds at the southwest corner of Liberty Park is sure to hear a cacophony of bird shrieks, chirps and screeches, and the peacocks can be seen roaming about just on the other side of the chain-link fence.

But thanks to restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the aviary is among the scores of Utah cultural institutions that are now tasked with finding ways to survive a public health crisis that could keep normal operations — and associated revenues — at a standstill for months.

Aviary Executive Director Tim Brown said even though gates closed to paying visitors on March 17, the work to feed and nurture the organization’s 400-plus feathered tenants marches on, as do the costs associated with those duties. And the timing of that closure really couldn’t have been worse.

“A big component of our revenue just evaporated,” Brown said. “We are primarily a seasonal venue ... and this is just the time of year when things really start to get going.”

Brown said that it isn’t just entrance revenues that the aviary is missing out on.

“Obviously, we’re no longer seeing any admissions revenue, but it’s bigger than that,” Brown said. “We’re also missing visitors deciding to buy a season pass instead of just one-time entry. Also, when people visit they’ll buy a plush or something from our gift store, purchase tickets for a feeding ... that’s all just gone now.”

While those revenue streams help defray the cost of operations, which Brown said run about $7,000 per day, the organization has worked to prepare for the unexpected and does have some rainy day funds to draw from, but only to a limited degree.

“We’ve spent years strengthening our operations,” Brown said. “That’s enabled us to get on a better footing financially, and we do have some reserves to carry us through a dry spell.”

Brown said a small number of employees had been furloughed early on, but he and his team have found ways to put them back to work, though the effort has required workers to be willing to take on new responsibilities and learn new skills. That’s included helping out with maintaining the facility’s habitats, assisting with the care and feeding of the birds and everyone playing a part in boosting virtual programs at that allow families stuck at home to have an aviary experience while sheltering-in-place.

Aviary board member and current Young Living President/Chief Operating Officer Jared Turner said he fell in love with the aviary as a child and spent a lot of time at the facility thanks to family members who lived in the nearby Liberty Wells neighborhood.

“Some of my best early memories are of visiting the aviary with my great-grandmother who lived in the area,” Turner said. “It started a deep love of the aviary and wildlife and especially birds.

“I now raise pheasants, peacocks and chickens with my kids and that all came from my love of the aviary.”

Turner has also brought the economic wherewithal of Young Living, the Lehi-based multilevel marketing company that sells essential oils and personal health products, to bear in support of the aviary’s work, which beyond running the exhibition facility also conducts and supports wildlife research in Utah and around the world.

Since last June, Turner said Young Living has been donating proceeds from sales of an essential oil diffuser made to look like a sleeping owl. So far, the effort has raised some $125,000, and while the money was initially earmarked to support research efforts, about $55,000 has been made available to help the facility stay afloat through the COVID-19 shutdown.

Young Living has raised $125,000 for the Tracy Aviary through sales of its Feather the Owl essential oil diffuser. The money is now helping the Aviary weather the COVID-19 shutdown. | Young Living

“Because of the recent need for operating capital, we were able to redirect those earmarked funds,” Turner said. “They’re just doing amazing work there. They’re impacting about 60,000 kids a year with their programming and a lot of hands-on experiences, captive breeding programs and research and rehabilitation efforts.

“We’ve had a great relationship with the aviary and look forward to continue helping.”

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Turner said Young Living has also been active communitywide in finding places to help in the fight against COVID-19, including donating over $230,000 to Meals on Wheels, manufacturing and donating hand sanitizer for front-line workers and company employees banding together to sew and distribute thousands of face masks that have gone out to community organizations.

Brown said he and his team are pursuing a variety of strategies to continue to navigate the financial challenges in front of the aviary, including applying for state and federal emergency stimulus funds that have been made available to distressed nonprofit businesses.

He also called the help from Young Living vital to keeping the lights on, birds happy and employees working.

“Young Living coming in with $55,000 definitely helps ease the burden,” Brown said. “It’s allowed us to bring six or seven people who had been assigned to the gift shop and feeder programs back on and working.”

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