For the past decade, The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay, a state park golf course near Chattanooga, Tennessee, has become synonymous with an education and outreach effort that has helped introduce curious onlookers around the world to the private lives of bald eagles.
Thanks to cameras placed atop a tree more than 100 feet in the air, the Harrison Bay Eagle Cam project allows people everywhere to view the nesting and parenting habits of eagles that return each year to the same nest.
This year, state officials are partnering with HD on Tap, a California technology company, to upgrade the infrastructure that has made the park and the golf course known around the world with bald eagle conservation.
"They are pioneers of eagle cams," said Bear Trace golf course superintendent Paul Carter, CGCS. "When they detailed their plans, it was like 'Oh my! We never thought of anything like that!'
"It is the next level of eagle cam technology. We've been playing in the minor leagues for so long. We're looking to move up to the major leagues now."
Eagles first showed up in 2010 at Harrison Bay, and those environmental programs came to the forefront a year later, thanks to fundraising efforts through The Friends of Harrison Bay, when park officials first installed a camera that peered into a nest. That technical set up has been updated several times.
The current upgrade will include two treetop cameras capable of panning and zooming in and out, one stationary camera and a fourth on the ground. The system will be operated and monitored from HD on Tap’s offices in Del Mar. The cost is about $13,000, and the state park system is committed to paying for it through private donations and corporate partnerships.
"That sounds like a lot of money, and it is," Carter said. "But we've spent $5,000, $6,000 and $7,000 before and never had anything like this."
It is the next level of eagle cam technology. We've been playing in the minor leagues for so long. We're looking to move up to the major leagues now.
Time is a critical piece to the eagle cam project. The male and female have been coming and going making repairs to the decade-old nest. Eagles are protected by several federal laws, and all work to the camera project must be completed before the female settles in to lay her eggs, which usually occurs in late November, with hatchlings emerging in early to mid-February.
"It usually happens during GIS," Carter said. "I'm usually in a meeting or at a dinner when my phone starts blowing up with pictures."
The project has been an important piece to Harrison Bay's outreach efforts for a long time.
When two eagles arrived in 2010, they were named Elliott and Eloise by Carter's daughter Hannah, who was 8 years old at the time. Hannah is 17 today and a senior in high school. Elliott is still coming around every year, but Eloise died two years ago. A new female, named Athena by those who watch the live stream, is on the nest today.
The property has become synonymous with eagle conservation and education. To that end, in 2015, Carter introduced himself at the Syngenta Business Institute as the superintendent of the golf course with the eagle cam project. Industry colleagues who did not immediately recognize his face or name, knew about the eagle cam project at The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay near Chattanooga, Tennessee, and quickly put 2 and 2 together.
"Ohhhh" many uttered while visibly shaking their heads in acknowledgement.
The Bear Trace is certified by Audubon International's Cooperative Sanctuary program and was the 2013 recipient of the Environmental Leaders in Golf award, presented by Golf Digest and the GCSAA.
"This program has been a game-changer for us," Carter said. "As a state park property, we don't have money for marketing. The eagle cam allows us to do that. Without the eagle cam, I doubt we win that Golf Digest award.
"People have come from all over to see it in person. It has brought us worldwide recognition and attention. I don't mind being known as the 'eagle cam guy.' It's better than being known as the guy who lost all his greens in one year."