Happening Now

The Gateway to the Southern Appalachians exhibit advances key elements of the WNC Nature Center’s Vision for the Future including the planning, design, and implementation of new butterfly gardens and play areas, enlarged gift shop, and “gateway” entry experience. 

This project is currently under contract for construction with an anticipated start date of June 1, 2024. The project area covers the section of the Nature Center that is currently occupied by the North Carolina Farm Yard as well as the outdoor storage area, an outdated elephant holding facility, and a portion of the area in and around the historic cabin. 

The WNC Nature Center will remain open regular hours throughout construction. The comfort and welfare of the Center’s animals are a top priority, and accommodations will be made with care throughout the construction process. 

 


Background

The WNC Nature Center, an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), connects our diverse audiences 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. The Nature Center is managed by the City of Asheville and is one of the primary facilities in Western North Carolina offering school children and adults opportunities to learn about and develop an understanding of their responsibility for this area’s native wildlife and habitats. The WNC Nature Center is home to 60 species of wild and domestic animals and hundreds of species of plants, all representative of this unique bioregion, the Southern Appalachians.

In 2010 work began to engage the public and stakeholder groups in the creation of the WNC Nature Center Vision for the Future. This strategic plan guided the planning and design of the Gateway to the Southern Appalachians Enhancement Project, which is being implemented in phases.

In 2018, a transformative new front entrance and ticketing experience was completed with improved parking, state of the art guest amenities, and opportunities for after hour events. The total project cost $1,350,000. Of this, $350,000 was funded through a Tourism Product Development Fund grant; $600,000 through the City of Asheville’s Capital Fund; and the remaining $400,000 through a donation from the Friends of the WNC Nature Center. In the first full year following the upgrade, attendance increased by 31 percent with more than 181,000 guests visiting the Center in 2019.

In 2020, design work on the Gateway to the Southern Appalachians exhibit began, featuring a newly renovated North Carolina Farm Yard area, Butterfly play features and native gardens, an increase in after-hours event space for rental opportunities, and the construction of an 800-square-foot gift shop. The exhibit area covers the entire section of the Nature Center that is currently occupied by the North Carolina Farm Yard as well as the outdoor storage area, an outdated elephant holding facility, and a portion of the area in and around the historic cabin. In order to carry out the full enhancement, preparations to the existing site will include demolishing the elephant facility. As the annual attendance of the Nature Center nears 200,000 guests annually, this area will have a dramatic impact on the guest experience and allow for continued growth in the coming years.

 

Project Funding

This project is funded through the City of Asheville’s Capital Fund, in addition to donations from the Friends of the WNC Nature Center and a $567,000 Tourism Product Development Fund Grant. 

Community members who want to support the project can learn more and donate at wildwnc.org/gateway.

 


Timeline

2020 – Initial design drawings prepared for the Gateway to the Southern Appalachians exhibit

2020 – City of Asheville commits $550,000 in capital fund for the project

2021 – Friends of the WNC Nature Center pledges to raise additional funds for the exhibit through a fundraising campaign

2022 – Additional funding awarded to the project from Tourism Product Development Fund

2023 – Final construction drawings complete with expanded scope

2024

  • April: construction contract for the project approved at City Council
  • Summer: construction begins

2025 – Late spring/early summer: anticipated project completion, grand opening and dedication event

 


Supporting Documents

WNC Nature Center Vision for the Future

 


Contact Information

Rebecca Cipriano, Project Manager
Capital Projects Department
rcipriano@ashevillenc.gov
828-424-5596

Chris Gentile Director, WNC Nature Center
Community & Regional Entertainment Facility Department
cgentile@ashevillenc.gov
828-259-8090

 

 


 

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