The word everyone was waiting for came out of the WNC Nature Center on Wednesday afternoon, as Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy and Nibbles the Groundhog had a Groundhog’s Day conference to predict the coming of Spring.
The media event fell on the same day as the nationally-followed prediction by Punxsutawney Phil, but as Education naturalist Eli Strull explained, “We wanted to get the scoop as close to home as possible.”
Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy, taking on the role of “Groundhog Whisperer” conferred momentarily with 5-year-old Nibbles, the WNC Nature Center’s resident groundhog, before declaring that, though it may take its time, Spring will indeed arrive in Western North Carolina. “It’s coming. It’s going to be a little delayed, but it’s coming,” the Mayor said, adding that she hopes people take advantage of good weather to visit the center.
The previous weekend’s warm spell brought huge crowds, said WNC Nature Center Director Chris Gentile.
The WNC Nature Center has observed Groundhog’s Day for the past eight years, and Nibbles is the second groundhog to have the honor of being front and center at the event.
The tradition, Strull explained, comes from European stock, and is timed to coincide with groundhogs coming out of their winter hibernation. Nibbles, who was raised as a pet and therefore cannot be released back into the wild, has recently moved into a new exhibit and habitat facility at the center’s red barn that allows for comfortable hibernation in the winter and activity in the warm months. Glass viewing windows mean visitors can better observe Nibbles in her new home.
The new exhibit is one in an ongoing series of improvements and upgrades at the WNC Nature Center, Gentile said.
The WNC Nature Center’s mission is to increase public awareness and understanding of the natural environment of Western North Carolina. Featuring over 150 animals including otters, black bear and red wolf, the Center is open from 10:00 – 5:00 daily.
The Center is operated by the City of Asheville and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)