WNC Nature Center sets record attendance in 2019

photo of Leafa the Red Panda in a tree
Leafa the Red Panda was introduced to the public on Valentine's Day 2019.


2019 was an exciting year for the WNC Nature Center!


In February, a ribbon cutting highlighted a new exhibit and the introduction of two new residents — red pandas named Leafa and Phoenix, who stole the hearts of everyone who attended the event on Valentine’s Day. They are the first species to be introduced as part of the Nature Center’s new Prehistoric Appalachia project. Red pandas are critically endangered and only several thousand remain in the wild. They are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan.


The Nature Center ended 2019 with record-setting attendance: 181,130 guests visited during the year, an increase of about 43,000 over 2018. Also, attendance more than doubled during the last decade, making it one of the most-visited family attractions in Western North Carolina. The Nature Center also added online ticket sales last year to make it easier than ever to purchase your tickets or to give them as gifts.


WNC Nature Center Director Chris Gentile attributes the growth in attendance to a combination of planning and partnership.  


“When I first started at the Nature Center in 2010, we created a ‘2020 Vision’  master plan to shape the future of the center. It’s been the document that has guided all of the improvements we’ve made, from the new front entrance to the start of our Prehistoric Appalachia project which includes the red pandas,” he said. “We’ve also had the continual support of our wonderful partners, the Friends of the WNC Nature Center, who have helped make many of these new additions a reality through their financial contributions. Our decade of success would not have been possible without the support of many dedicated and enthusiastic people.”


Nature Center staff have already begun design on a new exhibit featuring butterflies and construction should begin in 2020.  “When we review comments and suggestions from our guests, butterflies are one of the most-often requested species,” Gentile said. “Our new exhibit will introduce guests to many of our local WNC species.” 


The City of Asheville’s 42-acre WNC Nature Center, 75 Gashes Creek Road, is home to over 60 species of animals native to the Southern Appalachian Mountain region. Its mission is to connect people to the area’s natural resources and to advance conservation of native species.  The Nature Center is proud to be accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums the gold standard for animal care and welfare.  For more information about the WNC Nature Center or for tickets, visit wildwnc.org or call 828-259-8080.