WNC NATURE CENTER HISTORY
The Asheville Zoo
Many long time Asheville residents have memories of the "old zoo", which had been here since the Great Depression. The old zoo housed exotic animals including elephants, lions, and monkeys. Because of financial hardships in the mid 1960’s, the “old” zoo was forced to sell or give most of the animals to other zoos. Henrietta, the elephant, was cared for at the Center until the end of her life in the early 1980’s.
1973 Children's Zoo and Nature Center
In May 1973 groundbreaking ceremonies were held for the new Children's Zoo and Nature Center. This was a major community improvement project by the Junior League, and based on an initial $25,000 donation. The Asheville Building and Trades Council donated construction labor along with many local businesses donating materials. Management of the Center was assumed by Buncombe County
1975 Friends of the WNC Nature Center formed
The Nature Society, now known as the Friends of the WNC Nature Center was formed in March 1975, and together with Buncombe County’s Nature Center staff developed the mission: To educate the public to the natural history and ecology of the Southern Appalachians. The Friends serve as a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the Nature Center.
1976 Nature Center Grand Opening
A sneak preview was held for the opening of the new Nature Center in October, 1976 with the Grand Opening on May 7, 1977. Except for the peacocks, the old zoo was a memory. The new habitats were examples of future care, gone were the days of cages and bars.
1981 River Otter Exhibit Opening
In the spring of 1981, a new naturalistic exhibit for North American River Otters was opened. The exhibit featured underwater viewing and a flowing river. Guests could view the otters from several vantage points surrounding the exhibit
1989 Predator Habitat Project
In 1989 groundbreaking was held for the new 4 acre Appalachian Predators exhibit. Phase one (completed in 1991) featured a new red wolf & gray wolf habitats. Our first breeding pair of red wolves was received in the fall of 1991. Phase two began in the winter of 1995 and was completed in early 1998 and featured the cougar and bobcat habitats.
1999 Nature Center receives first AZA accreditation
In September of 1999, the Nature Center applied for and was granted accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for the first time at the Association’s annual meeting in Minneapolis MN. The Center continues to maintain this standard of excellence.
2006 City of Asheville takes over management of the Nature Center from Buncombe County
In 2006, the City of Asheville officially took over the management and oversight of the Nature Center from Buncombe County. The Nature Center was placed under the Parks and Recreation Specialized Facilities department.
2008 Red Wolf Run exhibit opens
In February 2008, the new state of the art Red Wolf Run opened to the public. The exhibit complies with the strict requirements of the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan.
2009 Small Mammal exhibits open
In April 2009, new spacious small mammal exhibits opened for red and gray foxes and raccoons. The exhibits replaced the old, cramped corn-crib style exhibits built during the initial construction of the Nature Center in the early 1970’s.
2012 Nature Center welcomes over 100,000 guests
2012 was a HUGE year for the Nature Center. For the first time in its history, the Center welcomed over 100,000 guests!