A thrill shot through me, part elation, part awe, as the juvenile corn snake languidly slithered up and around my arm.Gail Abrams, executive director of the Piedmont Wildlife Center, was showing me a few of the animals that are part of the center's wildlife outreach education program. Among them were an adult corn snake, two Eastern box turtles and a lizard named Walter, each with separate digs. A barred owl and a screech owl used in the outreach program are housed elsewhere. Walter is an Australian bearded dragon lizard. North Carolina lizards are way too speedy for hands-on education."Walter is slow and big," Abrams said.This small room is just a tiny facet of the nonprofit center's new location within the 82.8-acre Leigh Farm Park off Leigh Road, which is on N.C. 54 in Durham. The City of Durham and the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources jointly own the acreage.These are very exciting times for those involved with the Piedmont Wildlife Center, whose mission is "to support native North American wildlife through rehabilitation, education and scientific study, with emphasis given to the conservation of wildlife and its habitat in North Carolina." The center opened its wildlife hospital five years ago. The 1,400-square-foot building near the Streets of Southpoint mall was too small from the start for the number of injured wildlife that people brought in. Abrams said more than 2,300 animals come in every year. Administrative space was in Chapel Hill and the site has no room for an education center or for much needed outdoor flight rehabilitation cages for birds.This past January, the administrative officers set up shop in an old house at Leigh Farm Park and hard work quickly began to turn the old log cabin that sits to the right of the offices into an education center. Much remains to get the building in great condition, but home school groups and volunteers going through orientation have already met there. A member of the Center's board, Alan Britt, is an architect, and he and wildlife veterinarian Cheryl Hoggard, who has been with the center since it opened, are working on plans for a 3,500-square-foot hospital to be built in the park. A capital campaign is planned to raise money for the hospital and some state-of-the-art equipment it now lacks, such as an X-ray machine. Interns at the hospital this summer will live in an already existing abode in the park. Many items are needed to furnish the house. Go to www.piedmontwildlifecenter.org for the wish list. Other needs, such as donated wood, are also listed there (while you're there, take a look at the hospital Web cam).On May 3 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., the center will hold its first public event at its new site. The Festival for Wildlife will feature live music, a farmer's market, games, disc golf, hikes, face painting, storytelling, concessions, jewelry, environmental displays, history tours of Leigh Farm (part of it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975) and more. Cost is $10 for adults, $5 for children. Volunteers and vendors are still needed. Contact Abrams at 489-0900.Veterinarian Bobby Schopler, one of the founders of the Piedmont Wildlife Center and vice president of its board, said the new location is a gem in that it abuts the New Hope Greenway and a portion of the Jordan Lake watershed that is intended to preserve nature. Schopler said that making a commitment to creating the center and now expanding it to serve the true needs of the area's animals should be important to everyone. It already is for many people, he said."I think there is a strong urge in many people to help animals that have been negatively impacted by development and human encroachment whether it be cars or pets," Schopler said. "Just stumbling across wild animals into our forays into nature, when one needs help many people have a strong desire to help, but it may not be coupled with an ability to help. So it is important to have a place where that desire can be fulfilled."Since the center began operating, it has helped some 11,000 animals, Schopler said.Frank Heath, a Chapel Hill native and the owner of the Cat's Cradle music club in Carrboro, is president of the PWC board. He joined Schopler in helping to establish the center five years ago."I think my main personal motivation is simply the notion that, 'They were here first,' and if human beings are going to keep this world like the way it will need to be in order to sustain itself, we need to recognize that fact."Hoggard said more than 99 percents of the animals that come into the center's hospital wind up there due to interactions with human activity."There are all kinds of situations, some of it intentional," she said. "I don't think people are aware of the trials and difficulties that wildlife go through, particularly with so much development and destruction of habitat. Just seeing one soaring in the sky is a gift. Helping those animals that are suffering is the least I can do for them."As I looked on last week, Hoggard treated a cormorant with an injured leg. As she worked, a call came in about an injured heron en route to the hospital, and someone else delivered an injured owl. The stream of patients never stops, but Hoggard and her exceptional staff and volunteers persevere, and we are the better for it.Abrams came to the PWC in the spring of 2005 as a development officer after running an 840-acre preserve in West-chester County, New York. In May 2006, she became the executive director. She has extensive experience in land and wildlife preservation, and she said animals are extremely important for her well-being. "I get my energy back from being around the woods and the wildlife that is there," Abrams said. This transplant has already done so much to help our environs and our spirits. It was through her networking while striving to make the Triangle a better place for wildlife that she made the contacts that connected the center to Leigh Farm Park.The Piedmont Wildlife Center offers summer camps and camps scheduled specifically for year-round students who can't do summer camps. See the center's Web site for a detailed schedule.Abrams said the summer camp programs have a significant impact on how future generations see the importance of wildlife. The older camp kids help build items to be used in the hospital, such as songbird cages, and every camp has a theme; one, for example, is called Avian Adventures. "Kids actually get to learn about birds, understand why they are important, why they end up in the hospital," Abrams said. "It is a full cycle we try to teach the kids. Watching them understand is the reason why I'm here. To me rehabilitation is important and we need to do it, but if we don't educate them about why they are here we haven't done our job."The center is doing an amazing job, but the best is yet to come. "It is an organization with a lot of solid and outstanding goals in place, and some of the means to get there, with our location now sorted out and a really strong leader in Gail Abrams," Heath said. "Most of the rest hinges on raising a big pile of money. So I guess my wildest dream right now would be for someone or ones to donate a couple of million bucks!"Now there's something to do with those economic stimulus checks.