Overnight at the WNC Nature Center

When night falls on the WNC Nature Center, the animals that live there usually have the place to themselves. But on the evening of September 3, about 25 adults and children got a rare chance to stay overnight at the center, camping out, visiting animals, and participating in games and stories around the camp fire.

Participants set up tents on the center’s grounds, or the truly brave could opt to bunk down in the nature center’s snake exhibit. Nighttime visits to the center provide an opportunity to see the animals there in conditions that are rarely glimpsed by the public.

“The animals are curious too. They want to come up and see who’s here” says WNC Nature Center Education Curator Keith Mastin. “It’s really great time. It’s a more behind the scenes look.”

WNC Nature Center overnight
Education Curator Keith Mastin (in the green shirt) talks to WNC Nature Center overnighters about bats and other nighttime creatures.

Attendees of the event were treated to a birds of prey demonstration, a night hike, visits to exhibits housing snakes, turtles, wolves and bears, and several nighttime games that encourage education about their natural surroundings before heading to their tents.

“Education is really at the heart of everything we do here,” Mastin says. From conservation to animal behavior, the center strives to include messages that raise the public awareness of the native species that live right in Asheville’s back yard. “Even during our Christmas and Halloween programs, we have education attached to everything we do,” he adds.

The center participates in several outreach programs that include interaction with area schools and Boy and Girl Scout organizations. Over the year, Mastin says, the WNC Nature Center interacts with about 30,000 kids.

WNC Nature Center overnight
Up close and personal with a Great Horned Owl at the WNC Nature Center.

Though overnight programs are over for 2010, the WNC Nature Center has several upcoming programs that blend education and fun.

The “North Carolina Elk Experience,” on September 16 brings attendees to Cataloochee Valley, site of a federal elk reintroduction program in 2001 and 2002. The trip will be preceded by a presentation at the center about elk ecology and biology, then participants will load up in vans to head to Cataloochee Valley. Experiencing the elk in person, Mastin says, is an incredible experience that drives home the educational messages fostered at the center.

“It is a wonderful connection to what we are teaching,” he says.

The fall months also offer the 33rd annual Fall Festival, the Serpentine Howl-O-Ween and the popular Wolf Howl event.

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)