OKALOOSA ISLAND — Moving day is approaching for the furry tenants of the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge.
The refuge, which is housed in a cramped former fire station on Okaloosa Island, will be relocated in early July to more than two acres just north of Navarre.
A grand opening for the new facility will be Aug. 10, giving residents and volunteers a chance to settle in, according to Carol Andersen, the refuge's executive director.
"I didn't want our staff, our critters having to move and then immediately doing a grand opening with a whole lot of people around," she said.
The opening of the Navarre location is slightly behind schedule.
The new refuge will have two facilities, a rehabilitation center that will be closed to the public, and an education center, where the public will be welcome. The animal ambassadors, wild animals who cannot be safely released into the wild, will also have a home in the education center.
Andersen said a new ADA-compliant boardwalk, which will allow easy access to the education center, was just completed and work is in progress on the ADA parking spaces.
There is no exact moving date, but Andersen said she expects it to be right before July 4th. She said staff and volunteers will gather at the refuge early in the morning and load up the animals, all of whom will have already been placed in transportable cages.
They will then travel in a caravan to the new location on Cloptons Circle, which is off State Road 87.
The animals' permanent cages will be taken to the new location ahead of the caravan, so they will be in place when the animals arrive.
The population at the shelter ebbs and flows, but currently has about 125 animals, Andersen said. Some are permanent residents, while others are being treated and rehabilitated for release.
The new facility, built on land donated by Andersen and her husband, will cost just under $1 million.
"We are about two-thirds funded," she said. "I'm still fund-raising every single day."