New faces and a bright future for the WNC Nature Center

As the year closes out, the Center celebrates record-breaking visitor numbers, new members of its animal family, and big renovations on the horizon.

WNC Nature Center sign and exterior

The new welcome sign is just the start of the extensive renovations.

Photo via WNC Nature Center

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With still a month to go in 2023, the WNC Nature Center has already had a record-breaking year. In fact, the record was broken just last week with the Center surpassing 2019’s 181,000+ visitors. Director Chris Gentile expects that, even though things slow down in the winter months, they’ll see a few thousand more before the year is out.

As exciting as the milestone is, that record isn’t the only big news happening for the Center. Meet the newest members of the family and explore the plans for their fresh digs.

A flock of new faces

In the past six months, 19 animals of seven different species have taken up residence at the Center. The influx of baby animals started in April with the birth of seven critically endangered red wolf puppies. Also born in April, but arriving at the Center in July, were two coyote pups, Cal and Walker.

Tufts and Kohana the bobcat kittens joined the clutter in August and November, respectively, while Grace and Frankie the raccoons came in late September. Two baby box turtles and two baby snapping turtles will stay at the Center for the winter and be released back into the wild in the spring.

And although we love the babies (really, who doesn’t?), they weren’t the only ones to make Asheville their new home. Suli the black vulture and Morticia the turkey vulture, both adults, settled in this year, too.

These animals join the Center’s family for a variety of reasons, with some prepared to stay their whole lives and others just stopping by for a short while. Although some are born at the Center, others were injured out in the wild or not able to be released, and some just need short-term care.

Baby animals from the WNC Nature Center

The WNC Nature Center has welcomed 19 animals since the spring of this year.

Photos by Friends of the WNC Nature Center

Big things in store

It’s not just the baby animals that are breathing new life into the Center. The team is also in the midst of an extensive plan for renovations, having just submitted a permit application on Thursday, Nov. 16. The estimated $1.5 million project includes an interactive butterfly exhibit with an expansive butterfly garden, improvements for the barn area for the domestic animals, and a new gift shop. They’re also hoping to increase opportunities for expanded hours for events and space rentals.

Right now, the design is about 90% complete. Once the design is finished, the project will go up for bid, and after the bid is approved, the Center will have a more definite sense of the timeline. Gentile says, though, that the plan is to break ground on May 1 and finish in about a year.

For the WNC Nature Center, this year has proven both inspiring and difficult. The Center lost several of its older animals, which has had a huge impact on the team. But even in the midst of the challenges, Gentile says that they’ve been resilient — thanks in large part to the people who visit.

“Everyone who’s visited has really picked our spirits up,” he says. “And let us know how important the work is to them. We couldn’t have made it through this year without all the people who love the Center.”

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