By Dasha Morgan
Asheville – The Rotary Club of Asheville and Asheville Rotaract joined forces during a volunteer workday in late July to refurbish one of the many Nature Playspaces at the WNC Nature Center at 75 Gashes Creek Road in Asheville. The WNC Nature Center is home to sixty species of wild and domestic animals and hundreds of species of plants, all representative of the Southern Appalachians. While still temporarily closed to the public due to the Governor’s Stay Safe order, the Rotary Club volunteers gave their time and energy to refurbish the well-loved and well-used Nature Playspace above the Turtle Amphitheater and across from the Animal Enrichment Garden. There has been quite an upgrade and transformation.
Numerous studies show that frequent unstructured play in nature has a number of health benefits for children, including supporting their physical, cognitive, creative, social and emotional development. It helps instill an appreciation for and kinship with the outdoors. The Nature Center models nature-based play spaces throughout the grounds with nature “play pockets” along the pathways. Each nature play pocket is designed to encourage interaction with natural materials and entice different types of play behavior.
In 2010, the Rotary Club of Asheville gave a significant gift to match a grant from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for this Nature Playspace within the WNC Nature Center. After almost a decade of use, many of the natural items needed to be replaced, and the Rotarians were excited to fund, develop, and help reconstruct their sponsored space.
This Nature Playspace encourages play through music and movement. Fort building posts provide opportunities for dynamic play and practicing STEM skills as children use found tree limbs to construct forts. Natural log jump stumps and balance beams also help with motor skill development and learning how to self-regulate risks. A wooden amadinda (a musical instrument made of logs) tongue drum (a round steel slit/tongue drum originally fashioned from a propane cylinder) and rain wheel present musical elements for expressing creativity. The space also has a brand new sensory path for exploring the different textures, sounds, and even aromas produced when walking along the path.
The Rotary Club of Asheville is a group of active, engaged citizens interested in making friends, building relationships, and giving back to their community. They have regular meetings and fund over 14 local and international projects with a combined total budget of nearly $100,000 for 2019-2020. Sophia Ungert is the current President, and Katherine Morosani, the President-elect. The Asheville Rotary is a group of young professionals between the ages of 18 and 30 who are enthusiastic about serving the local community. For more information go to rotaryasheville.org.
The Nature Center prepares to reopen
Nature Center staff is working closely with local officials to develop a plan to safely reopen their doors. Uno and Ursa, the two black bears, Karma and Garnet, the red wolves, Obi and Olive, the river otters are all puzzled by so few visitors. What has happened to our audience? Why are they not coming to see us? The Nature Center is hoping it will be allowed to open its doors in September. They will update their website and social media platforms as soon as an opening date is confirmed. They are encouraging all to join the Nature Center now— with many benefits and discounts throughout the year.
In the meantime, there are many activities and programs that can be found virtually, so one can interact with the animals and see them online. The WNC Nature Center also offers a Camp in the Box designed for rising 1st-4th graders. The box features animal-themed crafts for $30, games, scavenger hunts, and nature journaling. Each box comes with detailed instructions, step by step pictures, and all the supplies needed to complete each exciting project. You can see an unboxing video by visiting wildwnc.org/summer-camp to learn if it is of interest. In addition, distance learning programs for the upcoming school years can be scheduled with a virtual auditorium-style program. Call Tori Duval at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. And to add a little zest to the tiresome annoyance of wearing a face mask throughout the day, the online gift store at the Nature Center is offering wonderful animal masks in adult and youth sizes. Perhaps a cougar, wolf or red panda mask would be your choice for the day!
The WNC Nature Center is managed by the City of Asheville’s Parks, Recreation & Cultural Arts Department. The stated mission of The Western North Carolina Nature Center is to connect people 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 has been an integral part of the Western North Carolina community and contributed toward its economic growth for many years. In 2019 the Center held the First Prehistoric Appalachia Exhibit with the addition of endangered Red Pandas, whose ancient cousins once lived in the region. In 2021 they plan to have a permanent Butterfly Exhibit.