Festiva Hospitality Group donated $50,000 to the Western North Carolina Nature Center (WNCNC), Asheville’s Wildlife Park. Festiva’s commitment will support the center’s 2020 Vision, a long-term improvement and expansion project already underway at the Nature Center that will help transform this diamond in the rough into one of Asheville’s favorite treasures for locals and visitors alike.
The donation is coordinated by Friends of the WNCNC, a nonprofit committed to supporting the WNC Nature Center’s mission of connecting people with animals & plants of the Southern Appalachian Mountains by inspiring appreciation, nurturing understanding, & advancing conservation of the region’s rich biodiversity.
“We are very excited to be involved with the Nature Center’s improvements and future expansion,” said Butch Patrick, president and co-founder of Festiva Hospitality Group. “We feel that the center is a wonderful attraction for visitors as well as local families here in Asheville, and we are proud to support the expansion and improvement of the center’s education and conservation efforts.”
Festiva’s donation is specifically being used to transform the historic and iconic red barn on the property into the center’s new main entrance. This new entrance will provide a more interactive and integrative first impression for all visitors and will also allow for the current entrance’s transformation into an education center that will increase the center’s indoor offerings for year-round use.
The WNCNC is already popular among school children, families and visitors, with an estimated 92,000 visitors in 2011. However, there are locals and visitors alike who haven’t heard of the Center or who may have heard of it, but have never visited. Through the Friends of the WNCNC’s efforts including partnerships with local businesses and fundraisers like the upcoming Mountain Safari on May 31, those who support the center hope that their efforts will increase the number of visitors each year, with the ultimate goal of having 200,000 visitors per year by the year 2020.
“We’ve already had a record-breaking spring this year in terms of visitor numbers,” said Kimberly Brewster, executive director of Friends of the WNC Nature Center. “The Friends have provided significant support to the Center through marketing and it is showing a great return. This increased attendance along with support from donors and partners like Festiva are critical to the Center’s operations and our goals in the 2020 Vision.”
The Center features one of the largest collections of Southern Appalachian animal species in the world. The Center is organized into different exhibit areas, each reflecting a unique habitat. Many of the animals such as the raccoons, birds of prey, black bears and white-tailed deer are quite common sights in our area and some residents may be accustomed to seeing them in the wild.
Some animals are still common yet not seen as often like the adorable otters, red and grey foxes, bobcats and a variety of reptiles and amphibians like snakes, salamanders and turtles. The center also features several animals that were once commonly found in North Carolina and/or the Southern Appalachians but have either become endangered or completely extinct to these areas. Some of the center’s efforts are aimed at reviving these populations, such as the critically endangered red wolf.
While the animals are certainly the main feature of the Center, the natural beauty of its grounds is something to be greatly appreciated. The Center is located on more than 40 acres of Southern Appalachian habitat along the Swannanoa River just southeast of downtown Asheville. The paved paths wind through lush foliage that bursts with flower blooms in the spring, provides welcome cool shade in the summer, dazzles with color in the fall and provides a stunning view through the trees in the winter. The center even has a ¾ mile loop trail for those who want to fully experience the scenery.
“Since Festiva will be bringing visitors to Asheville through our recent management contract with Festiva Biltmore Village and with nearly 100 employees in Asheville who can enjoy the center with their families for years to come, our partnership with the Nature Center is a natural fit,” said Patrick.
The Mission of the Friends of the Western North Carolina Nature Center is to create awareness and provide financial resources, through fundraising and events, in support of the Nature Center – Asheville’s Wildlife Park. For more information about the nature center and how you can become a member, visit www.wildwnc.org.
For more photos of Festiva’s visit to the Nature Center, please view the Asheville Citizen-Times photo gallery.