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WNC Nature Center

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Ceremonies were held in May 1973 for the new Childrens’ Zoo and Nature Center to replace the former Asheville City Zoo.

This community improvement was led by donations from the Junior League totaling $25,000 and donated labor from the Asheville Building and Trades Council.

What is now the Friends of the WNC Nature Center, a 501c3 non-profit charity, was formed as the “Western North Carolina Zoological Society” in October 1974, and with the Center staff, developed the mission statement: to educate the public about the natural history, flora and fauna of the Southern Appalachians and to develop public responsibility for its conservation. The Center is now home to over sixty species of wild and domestic animals and hundreds of species of plants, all representative of this unique bio-region, the Southern Appalachians. The Center is currently operated by the City of Asheville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department.

Today, the Nature Center serves all 27 counties of western North Carolina and in FY 2012, welcomed over 102,000 visitors through its doors.  30,000 of these visitors were school children attending the Nature Center in conjunction with their classroom curriculum. In fact, the Nature Center is one of the primary facilities in Western North Carolina offering school children opportunities to learn about and develop an understanding of their responsibility for this area’s native wildlife and habitats.

The Nature Center continues to be a very important environmental education resource for those who visit it. As an example, in 2008, Greenplay, LLC, a national consulting firm, surveyed City residents for the City of Asheville Parks and Recreation Department master plan.  The results indicated that an astounding 85% of those surveyed rated the Nature Center as “very important to the community” – the highest of any other Parks and Recreation facility — and that 73% felt that the Nature Center was “very important” to expand or improve (see attached survey results).

In addition to hosting school groups, the Nature Center offers summer camp for elementary and middle school children, a Junior Naturalist youth volunteer program for middle school students and various volunteer opportunities for adults of all ages.  The Center also provides educational programs for all ages about the rich heritage of the Southern Appalachian Region including the Wolf Howl – which offers an opportunity to learn about red and gray wolves through a classroom presentation and an outdoor visit to our onsite wolf habitats — and the NC Elk Program — when participants have an opportunity to learn about the elk reintroduction program, elk ecology, and then, travel to visit the newly introduced elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Nature Center has also been a participating member in the Red Wolf Species Survival Program since 1990, successfully breeding and exhibiting endangered Red wolves, and providing educational signage and programs for its visitors.

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