Nature Center Improvements

rendering of new entrance

Happening Now

Construction is under way on a new front entrance, updated parking and group education entrance at the WNC Nature Center, 75 Gashes Creek Road, Asheville. This project will enhance the visitor experience for the entire community. It will make the facility better able to accommodate group visits and make the entrance ADA compliance.

Ground broke on this project in April 2017. The new entrance is scheduled for completion in March 2018 at a cost of $1.35 million, including the design.

This project is being funded in part by the City of Asheville, and by the Friends of the WNC Nature Center with support from the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s Tourism Product Development Fund, and from Festiva. Other contributors to the project include charitable foundations, businesses, and many generous individual donors.


Asheville’s 42-acre WNC Nature Center is home to over 60 species of animals, including river otters, black bear, red and gray wolves and cougars. Its mission is to connect people with the animals and plants of the Southern Appalachian Mountain region by inspiring appreciation, nurturing understanding, and advancing conservation of the region’s rich biodiversity.

Attendance at the WNC Nature Center has risen over 31% in the past five years. More than 134,000 people enjoyed the center in 2016. This growth highlighted the need to create an entrance that allows accessibility to all visitors (particularly those who are handicapped or have strollers), provides ample parking, and allows for swift, safe entry for school groups.

The City of Asheville acquired the Nature Center from Buncombe County in 2006.

The Nature Center is proud to be accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

An active support organization, Friends of the WNC Nature Center, is a vital partner in the center’s growth and success. For more information on the Friends of the WNC Nature Center, or to join the Friends and support future projects, visit

Key Nature Center exhibits include:

  • Appalachian Predators, the largest area of the park, features coyotes, red and gray wolves and bobcat.
  • Appalachian Station is an indoor exhibit that features a variety of reptiles (including rattlesnakes and copperheads), amphibians and small mammals.
  • Black Bear Ridge features American black bears, hawks, owls and white-tailed deer.
  • Otter Falls features two North American river otters and several species of aquatic turtles.
  • Red Wolf Run exhibit focuses on the endangered red wolves, one of the center’s conservation initiatives.
  • Small Mammals includes raccoons and red and gray foxes.
  • Trillium Nature Trail is a .6 mile nature trail winding through forested areas along the Swannanoa River.
  • Western North Carolina Farm features endangered farm animals, such as the Cotswold sheep, as well as chickens, rabbits, donkeys and goats.
  • World Underground is an indoor experience that takes visitors on an education tour of life under the soil.


2008 - Red Wolf Run exhibit opens: The exhibit complies with the strict requirements of the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan.

2009 - Small Mammal exhibits open: This spacious space is designed for small mammal red and gray foxes and raccoons. The exhibits replaced the old, cramped corn-crib style exhibits built during the initial construction of the Nature Center in the early 1970s.

2010-2011 - Two cougars, Pisgah and Mitchell, came to the Nature Center in October 2010 from the Oregon Zoo. In May 2011, a newly renovated exhibit opened featuring the cougars and the Nature Center has been enjoying near record crowds ever since.

2015 - Arachnid Adventure Pavilion and restroom opens: This space is designed to encourage creative outdoor play for children.


  • Bear climbing structure installed.
  • Mining Sluice opens as an interactive nature play space for families centered on the geology of the Appalachian Mountains


  •  Ground breaking for new guest entrance and parking area
  • Wind machine attraction opens


Coming up -  Plans are under way for a Red Panda exhibit. Details will be announced in fall 2017.

Supporting Documents

Staff Report to Council - December 13, 2016

Resolution awarding construction contract - December 13, 2016




Contact Information

Chris Gentile, Director
WNC Nature Center