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Grandfather Mountain announces opening of Wilson Center for Nature Discovery

LINVILLE, NC (July 1, 2022) – Grandfather Mountain, the not-for-profit nature park run by the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, has announced that the new Wilson Center for Nature Discovery is now open to the public. Admission is included with your entrance ticket.

The facility nearly doubles the size of public space in the current Nature Museum with 10,000 square feet of education space, including state-of-the-art museum exhibits, three classrooms, an ADA-accessible theater and expanded capacity for hosting conferences and community events (up to 300 people, seated).

Grandfather Mountain’s new Wilson Center for Nature Discovery is now open to the public. It nearly doubles the size of public space in the current Nature Museum with 10,000 square feet of education space, including state-of-the-art museum exhibits, three classrooms, an ADA-accessible theater and expanded capacity for hosting conferences and community events (up to 300 people, seated). (Photo Courtesy of Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation)

New exhibits include a 3D interactive map of the mountain that showcases Grandfather’s ecology and history; flora and fauna walls; and other exhibits focusing on the mountain’s natural history, weather and geology. The new building, which officially broke ground in the fall of 2019, has been thoughtfully designed to make the most of Grandfather’s natural surroundings, using moveable walls and large banks of windows to bring the great outdoors inside. It is located about halfway up the mountain, adjacent to the wildlife habitats, and includes a new botanical garden planted along the east side of the Wilson Center.

The Wilson Center is part of a larger planned “Conservation Campus.” Coming soon, guests will also get to enjoy new learning spaces outside the center, including an amphitheater with terraced seating and a pavilion.

New exhibits include a 3D interactive map of the mountain that showcases Grandfather’s ecology and history; flora and fauna walls; and other exhibits focusing on the mountain’s natural history, weather and geology. (Photo Courtesy of Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation / Monty Combs)

“As a longtime leader in sharing the wonders of the natural world with visitors, the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation is excited to continue our momentum on that front with the Wilson Center for Nature Discovery and Conservation Campus,” said Jesse Pope, President and Executive Director of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. “The legacy here of conservation, preservation and education, established by the Morton family and their remarkable vision for what this special place was and can be, will undoubtedly guide us into our next chapter as we strive to make the impact of this International Biosphere Reserve felt even more broadly.”

Through the Wilson Center, the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation’s goal is to help visitors understand how unique the mountain is and to connect with and appreciate this valuable natural resource. It is designed to weave fun with education – offering experiential learning opportunities for guests young and old – and will expand Grandfather’s ability to provide educational programs to all types of groups, enabling the campus to become a hub for conservation work and expertise.

Coming soon, guests will also get to enjoy new learning spaces outside the center, including an amphitheater with terraced seating and a pavilion. (Rendering Courtesy of Coffey Architecture)

The Fulfilling Promises Capital Campaign funded construction of the new space. Coffey Architecture of Boone, N.C., was the architect for the project, with Alex Johnson Construction of Newland, N.C., the general contractor. The exhibits were designed by PGAV Destinations of St. Louis, Mo., and Art Guild, Inc. of West Deptford, N.J.

More on the Interactive Exhibits:

  • Interactive 3D Map: At the center of the experience is a large-scale model of Grandfather Mountain, complete with rocky crags, roads and bridges. Projection mapping and touchscreens feature the location of various ecological communi­ties and four seasons at Grandfather, information on hiking trails, historical figures at Grandfather and more.
  • Mineral Cave: The dramatic way Grandfather formed has made it a mineral hotbed. This exhibit is host to the most comprehen­sive mineral display in the state of North Carolina – as well as the largest amethyst found in North America – and gives the appearance guests are looking into the mountain. Track lighting shows the collection under different types of light, while a revolving display provides different angles.
  • The World of Migration: This area educates guests on mi­gration patterns of avian, mammal and insect species throughout Grandfather Mountain, sharing information through an interactive display and map projection.
  • Flora Wall: Grandfather Mountain is one of the most bio­logically diverse mountains in the Eastern United States and has drawn both amateur and world-re­nowned botanists from far and wide for centuries. This interactive display details the many plant and fungus species on the mountain, with magnifying glasses integrated into the exhibit to allow guests to examine specimens up close.
  • Fauna Wall: This interactive wall features handcarved bird sculptures and animal imagery to encourage exploration of the diverse animal species found here, showing a curated selection of creatures with a digital field guide that allows guests to explore their individual characteristics more closely.
  • Hall of Biospheres: This area highlights seven of Grandfa­ther’s 16 distinct ecological communities, arranged in the order that guests would actually discover them if they hiked up one side of the mountain and down the other.
  • Weather & Climate: There can often be a 10-degree difference in the temperature between the foothills and the peak of the mountain. This, combined with intense winds, can make for dra­matic seasonal changes. Wind tubes are featured to create a hands-on learning experience that demonstrates various wind speeds that commonly occur here. A short video, host­ed by ABC News’ Chief Meteorologist and Chief Climate Correspondent, Ginger Zee, discusses Grandfather’s unique climate and weather.
  • Trees of the Mountain: This exhibit presents a series of graphics that connect the stories of trees to the conservation legacy of the mountain and discusses pollution through a historical and modern lens. A cross section of a giant 262-year-old chestnut oak, harvested in the Grandfather Mountain area, is used to explore important dates in North Carolina and Grandfather Mountain history.
  • Shadow Play: Puppet cutouts of different birds displayed behind a screen and graphic panels help visitors learn to identify types of birds based on the wing, tail and body shapes of the shadows created.
  • Panoramic Viewing Towers: Outside the gift shop, a series of fixed 3D images by local photographer Todd Bush showing different seasonal views on the mountain can be cycled through via three optical viewing towers.

The New Spaces, At a Glance:

  • Williams Outdoor Learning Space: Coming soon, this space will be built around the existing natural landscape adjacent to the Wilson Center, with terraced stone walls following the natural curve of the land. Here, schoolchildren will enjoy naturalist pre­sentations with their picnic lunches, and events such as receptions featuring environmental speakers, corporate gather­ings or weddings will be held. The amphitheater will face the new outdoor pavilion and will become a special gathering place for approximately 150 guests to connect.
  • Cobey Botanical Garden: The Botanical Garden provides opportunities for learning even before entering the Wil­son Center. The garden is planted along the side of the building and filled with native botanicals, with plantings around walkways and open spaces, and home to the butterfly garden.
  • Education Classrooms: Grandfather is a vital resource for experiential and curriculum-based programs for schoolchil­dren year-round. Three classrooms will serve as the hub for educational programs for kids and adults, as well as collab­oration between scientists and leading environmental experts.
  • Hodges Theater: Coming soon, enhanced technology will expand the opportunities available in the auditorium, and the space will be made fully ADA-accessible with seating for 132 people.
  • Burton Education and Animal Care Facility: Coming in 2023, this two-story facility will have a first floor dedicated to animal care and a second providing office and meeting space for education and natural resources staff and zookeepers.

To learn more about the Wilson Center, visit www.grandfather.com/wilson-center.

For ticket information or to book your reservation, visit www.grandfather.com/tickets.

The nonprofit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation strives to inspire conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value the wonders of Grandfather Mountain. For more information, visit www.grandfather.com.


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